Dubai has a cultural event calendar that keeps us busy all year round and caters to all ages, backgrounds, and tastes. Unfortunately this year with the outbreak of COVID-19, everything was cancelled starting with Art Dubai 2020. As we all took shelter at home there were many online events both locally and across the world that kept us busy, but it just wasn’t the same. 

We were all elated to hear that Dubai Design Week, held under the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairperson of Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture) and member of Dubai Council, took place from 9-14 November, 2020. 

This is the region's largest creative festival and this year would also be the first major physical cultural event to return to the city since the coronavirus pandemic. As Dubai Design Week officially opened on the 11th, I was there bright and early to soak in the cooler November weather and of course, finally attend an event!

Despite all the barriers the diverse program included an impressive lineup of over 100 stellar events and activities including exhibitions, pop-ups, outdoor installations, and a new retail initiative supporting Dubai’s artisans, creatives, and entrepreneurs. I already knew that one day would definitely not be enough to experience and see it all.

The first thing I did was download the user-friendly app designed for the event. This comprehensive guide made it easier to navigate the event which was spread all across Dubai Design District and also received  paperless details of every section, piece, and artist. 

There was a photo opportunity right from the entrance where NEBULA by Vibhor Sogani caught my attention (and everyone else’s that was walking in). This outdoor installation consisted of stainless-steel mirror-finished spheres suspended to form a cloud. Depending on where you stood under them, the perspective was different and had a kaleidoscope-like potential. The deeper meaning behind this piece is what really resonated with me, a hopeful promise when looking up despite being under a rain cloud. 

A major highlight not just because it was an excuse to stay outdoors but because it was relevant to our current times, was The Project displaying the works of three prominent Emirati designers invited to develop outdoor seating in a way that follows the strict social distancing guidelines of a 2 meters distance between each person. The challenge was to ensure that each bench allowed for social distancing of 2 meters, but could also accommodate for human interaction and conversation, closer together, once regulations relaxed.

Inspired by the traditional majlis with its inherent values of humility, equality, and community, Wahda Bench by Hamad Khoory explored connection and separation. It included modular units of seat, tree, planter, and sanitization, which makes  it ideal for our current COVID-related restrictions and more spacious seating once the pandemic is over.

In my opinion, the Leader presented by Kart Group was the showstopper this year—an experiential, interactive 3D Art Installation showcasing the silhouette of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The sheer size itself gave the piece such a presence, constructed by using a styrofoam cube that was carved internally in 7 levels to create the intended shape with the finish exterior created with insulation plaster.

The concept welcomed the public into the layered cut-out panels to discover the light and shadows that  made up the journey of leadership. His highness’ words were written in Acrylic cut-out letters to provide inspiration to every visitor. 

When I finally ventured indoors (every entrance followed strict SOPs), my first stop was the MENA Grad Show. This progressive platform brings together 50 academic innovators from the Middle East and North Africa that are working on solutions for social and environmental challenges that we face today. The featured projects fall into three main categories that reflect how humans interact with our environment, society, and ourselves.

A recycling camp for children from the students of  German University in Cairo. 

Making paper out of waste submitted by Joseph Kfoury from University of Balamand.

I returned over the weekend to check out The Dubai Design Week Marketplace, which is supported by Dubai Culture & Arts Authority. The homegrown vendors included some of our favorites including Dumye, Tales of Dubai, and Urban Nest. I spent hours talking to the vendors, exploring their stalls, and of course spending a fair amount of money on beautiful jewelry and home goods, including some stunning pottery pieces.  

I had kept my expectations low and didn’t expect the atmosphere to match the previous years, but the event energy was purely electric. It left me inspired and hopeful to see that creativity is still alive and thriving. There is surely a bright future ahead.

Words: Saira Malik
Images: Courtesy of Dubai Design Week and Saira Malik

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