Jeddah Art Wave & The Saudi Design Progression

Sensory overload; my attempt at a two-word description of Jeddah Design Week. That barley does justice to the magic I had the privilege to witness through-out the 10-day exhibition, highlighting regional talent, and focusing on interior design. It was the first of its kind here in Jeddah, hosted by the Saudi Art Council, and organized by the knowledgeable and cheerful, Nawaf  Nahar Al Nassar.

Walking towards the showroom, music began to tempt my ears as soon as the giant sliding doors opened. The teaser was worth it, because as soon as I got close to the doors, I started to hear “I feel it Coming” by Daft Punk. I directly recognized the sweet smell of freshly brewed organic coffee, a trace of expensive oud based perfume, but mainly the air reeked of creativity, and dreams being fulfilled. The place was wafting with the scent of progression, poignant originality, and a whole lot of inspiration.

I made my way to Medd Café & Roastery, a local startup serving 100% organic, fair trade, freshly roasted, specialty coffee. I’m promptly greeted by the friendly staff, two boys and a girl. I was touched by the native, co-ed staff. Organic iced matcha tea latte in hand, I made my way to the first hall. I was welcomed with smiles, people taking photographs, and a flush of activity.

Bright lights tempted me like a bee to honey. Hanging above me were strings, a sound and light installation, curated by three Saudi girls; Reema Salama, Aseel Sahab, & Maha Bajanaid. The strings were hanging inside a mirror box that could fit five people comfortably taking selfies. The strings had vibrant multi-color fury balls attached to them, and fun Arabic children songs were echoing from the speakers within. The inside and outside of the instillation were wall to wall mirrors. Yet, you can barely see your reflection. Although it was only the first day, the whole surface area was covered in testimonials, signatures, names, doodles, and social media handles. The artists left neon markers for everyone, and a camera on the floor to record it all. I wrote my initials, a couple of small hearts, and ventured on.

To my left was a minimal booth with a sharp young man inside giving a speech to a group of five or six people- mixed ethnicities, genders, and ages. I was intrigued, I walked towards them and listened. Ghazi Al Soussi, established interior designer, spook of the need for minimalism and simplicity in today’s designs. His contribution to Jeddah Design Week were two identical but separately sized stools, delicately draped in tan leather, thin black iron rods met and intertwined to keep it up right.

The higher stools were placed in the front of the small room, three soft spotlights directly hit the three chairs, the smaller stools were subtly scattered around the room. I sat on one and waited for Ghazi to finish. As his speech came to an end, I thought about how many minds he’ll have the chance to reach within that short period. The opportunity is not wasted on him, he mentioned that this was a platform not only to display work, but to mold minds. He believed that designers are not just decorators, but designers of space and lifestyle.

He introduced me to Payman Moshfeghi, a very tall man, with kind eyes- but he too looks tiny next to his colossal creation. Keeping with the theme of the event, he created a tree house made by 100% upcycled material. It all began, he tells me, when he saw a wooden electricity pole being discarded. I looked up and saw two giant electricity posts, keeping up a tree house, easily more than 10 feet in the air. His minimal tree-house was a show stopper. One of the two non-Saudis presenting at Jeddah Design Week, I was touched to hear that born here, Payman feels just as Saudi as the next person.

As soon as I finished, a lovely girl asked me to interview her aunt. I found the ordeal heart-warming and followed her to a joyful lady. Jawaher Al Moarawi was passionate about what she loved, and it was obvious she loved interior design. With over fifteen years of experience, she knew her world inside and out. We got right in to a meaningful and relevant conversation about how she struggles with families being ashamed of small spaces. “Design this house, but keep in mind we’re moving somewhere bigger later.” Jawaher wanted her clients to be satisfied with any sized space; she wanted them to utilized, and made the area their own. Her humble 160-meter square instillation included an iron 2D couch on the farthest wall from the entrance. There was also a sand hour glass, and a hallway where in the correct angle, you’re in your own world, protected from everyone around you.

The next artist I met thoroughly mesmerized me, I was transported to another galaxy, and another era. Amar Alamdar was so much more than an interior designer; a poet, photographer, pattern maker, philosopher, survivor, and visionary. I was hanging on to every word. He told me about his tragic brush with death, and his life after cancer, and took me through all the optical illusions, paintings, and designs he presented to share with all of us. Every corner of his booth was covered with something special, something meaningful, and something with a rich back story to share. He walked in front of me through the sheer wall to wall curtain that surround. With one hand, he picked up one end of the curtain and threw it in the air. It caused the most beautiful chain of reaction, and fell right at my feet as I entered. “Mesmerizing, isn’t he?”,  a lady asked me – it was obvious by my wide eyes and grin that his stories and energy have captivated me.

Before I made my way to leave, I passed by Nawaf Al Nassar, the brains behind this occasion. London educated, Nawaf, came back to Saudi in the early 90’s and started to grow his passion within our Kingdom. He is recognized as one of the pioneers in this field.“Rather than writing a book with my life work, I curated this event. It has always been my dream to group all the bright architects and interior designers from this area under one roof, and use their experiences to educate the Saudi public about our world”. The process was a vigorous one, 300 people applied and only 16 made it. Confidence in one’s work was one of the key criteria, he added.

Kholoud Attar, founder of Design Network, the premier art magazine in Jeddah, had a lot to do with the success of this event. We walked out together as she told me about her experience. She was happily surprised by how all the designers worked together flawlessly. She’s currently in talks with the project leader of Jeddah Corniche walk way, to have the art pieces exhibited there publicly.

The overall vibe was exciting, enticing, and inspiring. The hall was filled with people from all walks of life- from toddlers to grandparents, from famous rappers to console generals. All I could think about was my anticipation for the next round.