4 August 2017
By Dieneke Ferguson
Designers in the Middle is an exciting new initiative that was founded in 2008 by Rona Meyuchas, the founder and creative director of Kukka. Kukka makes products from sustainable materials and cultural behaviours.
Rona initiated Designers in the Middle as a concept back in 2008 when she moved from London to the Middle East.
Designers in the Middle focuses on:
- Designers operating in and from the Middle East
- Designers find themselves in the middle between the manufacturing and the political constraints.
“The content of Designers in the Middle is not political at all and that is also one of the reasons the “East” word after the “Middle” is not mentioned. What interest me is to bring out the person/designer behind its work. I am hoping you will find the beauty behind it.”
As a citizen of the world, Rona works internationally but at the same time she is stimulated by local craft, heritage and manufacturing techniques. In the Middle East, there is a rich culture of arts and crafts however, unlike other regions, these are not easily accessible among neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and Iran.
For instance The Felucca light from Kukka is one of the products that symbolised Rona’s move to the Middle East, to Israel. Felucca is a typical sailing boat found in the Middle East protected water such as Suez Canal.
She had this fire retardant interesting fabric; developed and made by a British company on her desk for many years back in her London studio. The material properties stimulated her to create a lamp shade from only a piece of fabric, it has no structure only two fasteners to hold it directly on a light bulb and that’s how the lamp shade volume is created.
The first Designers in the Middle Panel Discussion took place in London in 2016 during the London Design Festival and was curated by the Design Museum. The Panel consisted of Suzanne Trocme as moderator, plus two panellists in addition to Rona.
The second Designers in the Middle Panel Discussion was held In May 2017 during ICFF in New York. This was again in the form of a Discussion Panel that examined the unique experience of designing in or from the Middle East. It also looked at how the region’s craft, heritage, daily life and industrial reality affect the work and lives of its designers.
The Panel was chaired by Jerry Helling, President & Creative Director of Bernhardt Design. Rona was joined by an expert panel, including designer Khalid Shafar (United Arab Emirates) and Taher Asad-Bakhtiari (Iran).
You can see the video of the Panel Discussion here
Khalid Shafar from the United Arab Emirates has a studio in Dubai. He has collaborated with the Brazilian duo Campana Brothers and with Kartell.
About Taher Asad-Bakhtiari from Tehran focuses on textiles, that includes the Tribal Weave Project, a multi-tiered and ongoing reimagination of tribal artifacts, and “recovered barrels”, a metaphorical conceptualization of crude oil containers. Taher lives in Tehran.
Here in her own words Rona explains more about this fascinating project.
What is Designers in the Middle?
Designers in the Middle is a project I initiated 8 years ago when I was a freelance journalist for an Israeli Design and Architectural magazine. The editor wanted me to write about Israeli design scene but at the time, I just moved from London to Tel-Aviv and I didn’t know anything about the local Israeli design scene and while I was doing my research, I came across work of designers from neighbouring countries: Lebanon, Jordan.. I found so many similarities in the designers work and its Middle Eastern cultural background and presence which I found fascinating mainly because it’s known for its conflicts while I started to see the beauty and potential behind it.
So Designers in the Middle is to unite; it is not political at all; we don’t speak politics as there are other more interesting subjects we can share.
The article was never published unfortunately (political reasons) but it needed the right time; last year we were officially invited by the Design Museum in London to present it at London Design Festival 2016 as part of their talks programme; last month we came back from New York after being invited by ICFF.
I presented it as an open discussion; with a moderator and two panellists. Suzanne Trocme’ was the moderator in London (Editor et Large Wallpaper magazine) and Jerry Helling in New York; then we had panellists from Iran, Dubai, Lebanon and Israel
The debate – what key issues were highlighted and discussed in London and in New York?
It was very different in London and New York; In London we were all females, one of the panellist Annabel Karim Kessar is a Lebanese architect with offices in Dubai, Beirut and London gave a different perspective to the panel as she works internationally on big projects. Also Suzanne wanted it to be spontaneous and we all met for the first time 15 minutes before the talk. We presented ourselves and our work and Suzanne asked us questions.
In New York Jerry wanted us to meet before so we already met twice before the debate which was really nice. Each panellist presented himself for 7 minutes with slides of work and then Jerry asked us direct questions.
In both discussions subjects that came up: immigrations, nomadism, culture, craft, working globally, being a female in the middle east, education…
Can you say a bit about the project to document the craftsmanship and history of craft from the region following the debate?
Craft is affected by lifestyle; to reply the question I need to give a bit of background; The region has a rich craft culture. Wood carving, knitting, weaving, Silversmith, inlaying…
One thing that symbolises the Middle East is the social and cultural influence of nomads and tribes. Israel as an example is a country of refugees (after WW2) and immigrants; about 50% are from Middle Eastern countries such as Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen, Libia, Turkey… The rest are European. So European Jews specialized in Tailoring, Silversmith, Jews from Iran specialize in Rug weaving. Yemen in Silversmith. When they escaped their countries to find a better place to live in, they had to leave all they had including their tools behind and to “build” a new life in a new young country. The hegemony and refugees syndrome had a strong social impact on the current culture and basically, that’s when the local craft was abandoned.
I am mostly interested to see its influence on modern Middle Eastern designers working globally and to find the similarities and uniqueness in their work.
You can see Kukka’s work here