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New Show Marries Modern Design and Enduring Tradition at Jeddah’s ATHR Gallery

Curated by Nicolas Bellevance-Lecompte, co-founder of Carwan Gallery (Beirut), Jeddah’s ATHR GALLERY’s latest exhibition, WEHEgathers an all-star cast of artists, designers and architects from the region to explore the notion of ritual and the role of both essential and meaningful objects in creating them. 

Under the title of WEHE – meaning “dwelling place” in Ancient Egyptian, the origin of “waaha” in Arabic and “oasis” in Greek – the exhibition focuses on oasis dwellings: their unique geographic context and the way in which they combine the preservation of old traditions and primordial lifestyle with concepts of modern living and technology. 

 All ten artists and designers have produced new commissions of bronze works 

Taher Asad-Bakhtiara and Anastasia Nysten, installation view of WEHE at ATHR Gallery (Jeddah) 2019.

Looking to textiles, Iranian self-taught artist Taher Asad-Bakhtiari creates modern works from techniques rooted in the heritage of Iranian tribal culture. Asad-Bakhtiari has developed several bodies of work including The Tribal Weave Project where he worked with Iranian artisans to reinvent the kilim (flat tapestry-woven carpet) and gabbeh (traditional Persian carpet). By introducing unexpected materials including lace and metallic threads, he elevated these traditional, floor coverings which were beautiful, but functional, into works of fine art, imbuing these traditional forms of craft with a new identity.  


Architecture collectives also contributes to the exhibition through coffee tables, tile work and a beautifully designed multi-use object. Architecture collective Bahraini-Danish use their cultural differences as a means to create work and included here is their series Unsighted Tables. The work is a collection of independent yet related tables which are in concept and realisation, as much about architecture as they are about design.  

Bahraini-Danish, ‘Unsighted Tables’ as part of WEHE exhibition at ATHR Gallery (Jeddah), 2019

Ghaith & Jad (Lebanon) have created the work Myriad which is inspired by the resilience and ritual of traditional life. Myriad is a slender metallic capsule which can be turned into a rug, recliner, bench or banner: an object with multiple lives and myriad forms, both mysterious and utilitarian, bringing together historic craftsmanship with contemporary design.  


From architects to designers, the collective BrickLab (Saudi Arabia) have created Sand Scriptures, tiles which highlight the granularity, colour, and locale of reclaimed sand from Saudi Arabia, transforming each work into a record of geographical stratification.  


Carlo Massoud uses a different material, pink onyx, to create Pink Cities, modern-day relics that trigger memories and associations of structures, spanning the globe through history, ones that are deeply embedded in our collective memory.  


Meanwhile, Egyptian/Lebanese artist Omar Chakil has worked in unvarnished, untreated, raw Egyptian alabaster for his series Volutes. Launched during Beirut Design Fair 2018, the series examines the energy of movement and sensuality inspired by the stone’s ancient healing, mystic and soothing swirl-like motifs. “The idea was to find an emblematic Egyptian mineral and use it to create contemporary objects that would build bridges between past and present, craft and design’ says Chakil.  

Ghaith & Jad (Lebanon), Myriad (installation view) at WEHE exhibition at ATHR Gallery (Jeddah) 2019

The exhibition additionally features works by London-based, Lebanese artist Flavie Audi who works with glass to create amazing sculptures which see nature and artifice collide; trailblazer and veteran of the Beirut design scene Karen Chekerdijan who has collaborated with Iwan Maktabi to create an experiment of textiles, bringing the lushness and vastness of nature indoors; Rasha Nawam and Mary-Lynn Massoud (Lebanon) who’s work Essai  demonstrates a synthesis of materials, colors and textures to create rugged shapes, intensified with vibrant colours; and Anastasia Nysten (Canada, Finland, Lebanon) who interprets the functionality and form of contemporary furniture and what it means to us sociologically 

WEHE runs at ATHR gallery until July 27, www.athrart.com 

Omar Chakil, Volutes (installation view) as part of WEHE exhibition at ATHR Gallery (Jeddah) 2019

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