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Rana Beiruti

Design Doha set to be "regional home for design" says curator Rana Beiruti

With 100 designers from the Middle East and North Africa, Design Doha is showcasing emerging regional designers, says Rana Beiruti, who is curator of the biennial's Arab Design Now exhibition.

Launched by art and culture institution Qatar Museums, the first edition of Design Doha will open in the Qatari capital this Saturday.

M7 building in Doha, Qatar
The first edition of Design Doha opens this Saturday

Central to the biennial is its main exhibition, Arab Design Now, which was curated by Jordan-based Beiruti, who previously co-founded and directed Amman Design Week.

The contemporary exhibition will feature a diverse offering of work from 74 participants – individual designers and collectives – including collectible design and installations that reflect on the current design scene in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region.

Qatar is having a "big boom"

Beiruti said that following the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar, the country has been experiencing a "big boom".

"I think it's [Qatar's] moment now to create the infrastructure and the spaces for younger designers, particularly emerging designers, to learn, grow and start producing work," said Beiruti.

"The biennial serves that purpose as a learning experience. Biennials are an important platform where designers and artists can create outside of certain constraints or certain financial constraints," she continued.

"I think Doha is hoping to position itself as a regional home for design – not just for local designers."

Furniture by Richard Yasmine
Arab Design Now is the event's main exhibition and will include furniture by interior architect Richard Yasmine

While this will be the first edition of Design Doha, Qatar and the surrounding MENA region has a long and rich history of design and architecture, emphasised the curator.

"There's this big question all the time about what is the identity of Arab design and I think that it's not disconnected from the global condition of design, the global design world," said Beiruti.

"It's not something separate from it or different from it. It's very much connected to what's happening on the global stage."

Beiruti described Arab Design Now as a "museum-grade" selection of design, which explores what it means to create in the MENA region today – the guiding force behind the exhibition.

"I don't know how you make a divide between design and craft"

The curator said that the show will look at the different aesthetic approaches and ways that people think about design from across the region, but also "map the commonalities" that exist between countries.

In particular, Beiruti explained that the exhibition will feature a series of overarching themes – specifically craftsmanship.

"Personally, I don't know how you make a divide between design and craft," she said. "I find they're so intertwined."

"I feel like there's little design I'm interested in that isn't basically contemporary craft," added the curator.

Designs by Samer Selbak
Artist Samer Selbak will also present pieces in the show

Beiruti also cited "a love for the land and respect for materials" as a focus of the exhibition participants.

Among the vast array of work, the curator said to expect pieces from Samer Selbak, a Palestinian artist who works with sponge as a material, as well as Jordanian-Palestinian architect Abeer Seikaly, who has designed a chandelier using weaving techniques that she learned from working with Bedouin tribes in Jordan.

"What's interesting is that even if practices and technologies have evolved, there's a certain set of values that I feel like people still carry and they're values that are common in our culture," said Beiruti, reflecting on the work that will be on display.

"Values of the collective, of collaboration, of co-creation."

"And so a lot of the works are done in collaboration with craftspeople. And those people are equally recognised in the production of the piece," she continued.

"So I would definitely say that craft is very central in this exhibition. There's a lot of upcycling as well – people who are using old discarded marble slabs and stone [to create work]."

"The designers have gone all out"

After the official Design Doha event draws to a close on 28 February, various exhibitions will be on display in the city until early August, including Arab Design Now.

"The designers have really gone all out, and there are pieces that are really monumental, so I think having them on display for only four or five days is possibly not enough to create the right level of engagement," acknowledged Beiruti.

Considering the potential outcome of Design Doha, the curator said that she hopes it will positively influence designers – especially a younger generation – and visitors alike.

"If it inspires other designers in a specific way, or gets people to think about how they are producing and how they are consuming differently, then I feel like it will be very successful."

The photography is courtesy of Design Doha.

Design Doha takes place from 24 to 5 August 2024 in Doha, Qatar. See Dezeen Events Guide for an up-to-date list of architecture and design events taking place around the world.