Art in the press


Design in Development and for Development – Art and its Industrial Interface

Nayla Rached – Cultlural Agenda nº 356 of 21st October to 03 November, 2009.

Design and industry are not necessarily opposed. On the contrary, each one contributes to the development of the other for a better evolution. Wafa Osta, Lady-President of Architree, and Sophie Skaf, founder of ADAPO, both insist on design as a value which is added.

Designer – this is a word used more and more often in everyday language. People talk of a designer table, a designer dress, a designer piece of furniture, designer jewelry, a designer plate, one expression used for any number of different objects.

Visitors to the Horeca salon held last April were able to have a look at the Pavilion of Lebanese Design that assembled the creations of certain designers of ours, original benches of leather and polished metal points signed Fady Salamé, blown glass by Mona Asfar, lamps by Ethos Original, and table mats in plexiglass and tables by Atelier SZ. This gave just an idea of the creative powers of the six Lebanese designers and two workshops brought together by Architree, a Lebanese NGO which allows small and medium enterprises to shine in the world of “Design Unique” and “Limited Lines”. The aim of its slogan, Design for Development, as explained by its president Wafa Osta, “is not merely cultural but also economic. If the work of the designer and the artisan is economically viable, then it will endure and have a cultural value. It is a matter of allowing the work of the artisan to have an added value giving them a place on the market.”

It was precisely with this purpose that some years earlier, in 2003 to be exact, that ADAPO (Association de design et d’architecture au Proche-Orient) organized the event Mangeons Design. Sophie Skaf, who founded ADAPO, which is simply the extension since 1993 of the Tableau rase association aimed at implanting the designer concept in Lebanon, explains that it was an event including talks, exhibitions, installations and workshops. Bernard Khoury, Nada Debs, Pascal Tarabay and three French designers were among nine who took part “so that the show might be more interactive and to demonstrate that there was no great difference between the level of our own designers and of those of France.” On the other hand there was a gulf where publicity was concerned. This little detail is very important and the stamp “Made in Lebanon” was the object of Mangeons design. It was precisely a matter, adds Sophie Skaf, of ensuring that “industrialists should be aware that design is an added quality and should venture to make our young designers known in Beirut and in the Middle East. We have done all we can but have known little success.”

But ADAPO has not given up and has made one effort after another. First of all there was the launching in 2004 of the workshops setting in the forefront the skills of blown glass, inlay, weaving on the loom, and molding plastic, done in cooperation with designers and universities. Once again the aim was to “obtain orders for these disappearing crafts ... but none were obtained.” What precisely is the problem? “I don’t really know,” she answers. “Is it just that industrialists prefer the easy way out by sticking to old ways? The other problem is the lack of means. The order may be too complicated for the artisan’s machine’s to carry it out, so he cannot make use of his limited potential... So it is a vicious circle.” Sophie Skaf smiles a smile of weariness tinged however with hope.

“I believe there is great potential in this country. But in industry the will is lacking. So once again it is a matter of launching the project Creative Lebanon, commissioned by the British Council in 2004, and of holding a seminar on the creative programming of a competition for designers of under thirty-five. The laureates Joe Abu-Khaled and Vincent Repessé, whose project had the theme Lebanese Homemade, Lebanese Home Blend, went to London to acquire the resources for making it known.

For the designer Sophie Skaf, “fulfillment comes from having beautifully designed objects executed and produced in Lebanon.” And she gives the example of the little dresses of the Lina Mroué house, marked “Created in Beirut and made in Lebanon.” “It’s magnificent, extraordinary,” she exclaims, “We have prepared the ground and now I think that the torch is in other hands.”

Little by little the project is ripening and will bear fruit. At the Pavilion of Lebanese Design certain designers have reached agreement with restaurants that placed orders. In fact, according to Wafa Osta, the aim of the Pavilion of Lebanese Design is “to contact the sector of entrepreneurial promoters of the hotel and restaurant sectors, as they are the trend-setters. The present tendency is to move away from the tendency to globalization and to give a particular character. “The Lebanese are trend-setters,” to quote Wafa Osta. This is especially the case now as “with the crisis and slow-down of the world economy, hotels and restaurants are now less inclined to place huge orders coming in large containers coming from China, but rather to look for small quantities in limited ranges. It is here that the Lebanese can affirm themselves as the ‘source market’.” Will there be further Pavilions of Lebanese Design? “Perhaps something the same or perhaps something similar abroad, in order to present Lebanese designers. That is our purpose.” says Wafa Osta.

While waiting for the industrialists to be more venturesome, let us hope that the design concept will impose itself as viable for both the Lebanese and the foreign market and that private initiatives will continue so as to give new inspiration to design. So it is that at present ADAPO is “constituting a design collection to be exhibited in a museum. That is all I can say for the moment,” adds Sophie Skaf. So here’s to the next rendez-vous!

Translated from French - William MATTAR