The third edition of Amman Design Week launched Friday in the Jordanian capital, with the aim of promoting innovation, exchange and the opportunity to tackle regional challenges from a new angle.
The noncommercial platform gathers over 200 participants for 140 events taking place Oct. 4-12, with an expanded program of curated exhibitions, talks, workshops and cultural projects distributed across three districts in Amman – Ras al-Ain, Jabal Amman and Jabal al-Lweibdeh.
Founded in 2016 as an annual affair supported by Queen Rania al-Abdullah, the event took a break in 2018 to retool as a biennial.
“We’re continuously trying to understand ourselves and why we do this, what it means to do a design week, relative to the country and the region and what designers are producing,” ADW director Rana Beiruti told The Daily Star. “We decided we didn’t want to do this [annual] factory-like production of events. It’s more about doing the right works and yielding the right results in terms of designer output.”
Curated by Noura al-Sayeh-Holtrop, ADW’s main exhibition at The Hangar (a renovated electricity facility in Ras al-Ain) showcases diverse works – architecture, fashion, products, furniture and graphic design – by local and international designers.
“The theme for the year is ‘Possibilities,’ which came about because everyone is feeling that we’re doomed these days due to climate change and the political climate in Jordan is to throw your hands up and give up,” Beiruti said. “The theme is to say that there may be bad possibilities coming our way but there can also be good possibilities.
“My expectations were that something futuristic would come about. Instead we’ve seen how designers are looking to the past in a very interesting way,” she added. “There’s an undertone of lost or destroyed heritage and many designers are looking at ways to reinvent lost traditions or draw attention to the heritage we’re losing in the region.”
One project is a stone column by Palestine’s Elias and Yousef Anastas, made from architectural ruins.
“I find there’s is something spiritual and ancestral about it because it’s old stone, combined with new, digitally fabricated stone made with high precision machines,” Beiruti said of the sculpture, which alternates between broken rock and polished stone.
“Some were stones from walls, steps from old houses in Bethlehem, but it shows that you can reuse and innovate around old stone.”
Certain projects at The Hangar are more like installations and could easily be imagined on show at an art biennale. Jordan’s Omar Sartawi’s piece fits neatly in this category.
“His sculpture of Ain Ghazal, which is one of the oldest sculptures in the world and was found in Jordan,” Beiruti said. “It now sits at the Louvre Abu Dhabi and this is an edible replica of it, made of jameed, a dried yogurt used in our national dish, and it’s all about how we’re literally eating away at our heritage.”
Palestine’s Dima Srouji’s research project “Hollow Form” replicates Levantine glass artifacts using clear blown glass by Palestinian craftsmen and seeks to highlight the dwindling art in the region. The copies also draw attention to issues like the looting of artifacts and displacement, as the colorless copies look like ghostly stand-ins for the real absent pieces.
Sayeh-Holtrop believes that these more conceptual research projects are a result of having a noncommercial focus, through a three-month open call.
“We really use the open call as the basis for structuring the exhibition, not the other way round,” she told The Daily Star. “Based on the result we received, certain themes started emerging across works so we grouped them to highlight this.
“In Jordan, importing materials is becoming an increasing problem due to higher custom fees and taxes, so designers are looking inward to see what the local possibilities are,” she added. “We can highlight more experimental work, research based projects and larger installations that we commissioned especially for this show. “Designers understand that cities are a complex mechanism and it’s not only about statistics and it’s a lot about personal narratives,” she said, “the stories of people living in them.” Three Lebanese designers are in The Hangar show, and the Samandal comic collective is participating in ADW’s first-time survey on comics in the Middle East.
Najla al-Zein’s offering is an addition to her “Seduction” series, which debuted at Friedman Benda in New York. The curving sculpture made of Iranian red travertine represents the changes of the female body during pregnancy.
Joan Baz’s video installation “To Practice a Place” explores the geography of dabkeh dancing, creating a comparative study on the variations of dabkeh through geopolitical and transnational landscapes.
Georgia Mchaileh’s furniture pieces take a stance on Lebanon’s escalating water pollution crisis.
“It discusses the extent of our involvement when it comes to making the situation better by being aware and more responsible,” Mchaileh told The Daily Star. “There are six pieces that are almost a walk through accepting the circumstances and striving for better.
“Everything white [silica sand] represents the clean lives we wish to live in and everything black is EPDM, which is recycled biodegradable plastic rubber, and is big in European automobile industry because its eco-friendly,” she said of her minimalistic pieces. “The table piece is the water’s surface with a big block of recycled material underneath, which resembles us swimming thought waste. The second table piece ‘Respire’ is us coming up for air and being tired of our situation like a blow hole.”
While the recycled plastic material she uses is currently imported from Europe, Mchaileh hopes she will soon be able to use Lebanese-made material.
“Lebanon’s plastic needs a lot of treatment for it to last and a lot of research to be nontoxic, which isn’t available right now,” she said, “but I’m hoping it will pick up and I can use material made from waste found on Lebanese beaches.”
The Ras al-Ain section also features a student exhibition, where high school and university students are showcasing some of the innovative ideas that have resulted from a design mentorship program sponsored by ADW.
Across from The Hangar, the “Future Food/Future City” show explores urban agriculture possibilities, with several projects looking into public green space, rooftop gardens and the growing of food in without soil.