Nestled among the snow-tipped mountain tops of St. Moritz in Switzerland is the Chesa Planta mansion, a former farmhouse more than 200 years old — a classic work of late baroque architecture. From February 6 to 9, it was home to Nomad, a travelling showcase of collectible design organized by curators Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte and Giorgio Pace and regarded as one of the world’s premier design exhibitions.
Each iteration of Nomad takes a fairytale location and historical edifice and places inside a selection of high-end collectible design objects. Among them this year were pieces by designers from Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
The program for the exhibition included an alluring quote from US writer T.S. Eliot: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” Nomad is undoubtedly for explorers and lovers of objects that straddle the worlds of fine art and high-end design.
One of the first galleries visitors came in contact with on the ground floor was that of London-based The Invisible Collection. On the floor was a striking rug containing geometric shapes and pastel colors by Saudi architect Shahad Alazzaz. “The Architect’s Rug” is made of bamboo silk and viscose and hand tufted in India. The limited-edition piece offers a contemporary interpretation of the significance of carpets as forms of storytelling in the Arab world.
The Invisible Collection website explains, “Curators Alia Dawood and Oliva Sartogo invited a group of architects to create original designs tapping into the concept of ‘The Garden of Paradise.’ This idea of an archetypal, heavenly garden has always been an inspiration to artisans and artists alike for experimentation, creativity and storytelling.”
According to the website, “The Architect’s Garden” was inspired by “one of Alazzaz’s most emblematic projects” — Villa Mansour in her hometown of Riyadh, where she founded Azaz Architects.
“At The Invisible Collection, the three founders are female and we also have an all-female staff,” Anna Zaoui and Isabelle Dubern, two of the founders of The Invisible Collection, wrote in a statement to Arab News. “We take particular pride and a special interest in promoting women designers whose work we find beautiful and interesting.”
They were introduced to Alazzaz’s “poignant work,” they wrote, “by ArtInd — Oliva Sartogo’s innovative platform that connects the closely related worlds of art, architecture and design. Unearthing talented designers from around the world and bringing them into dialogue with each other is at the heart of The Invisible Collection, so naturally ArtInd’s specialism in collaborating with architects from the Middle East and Asia excites us. Shahad’s designs complement our collection with her perspective that is so deeply rooted in Middle Eastern aesthetics.”
Upstairs in Chesa Planta was “Orientations,” a presentation by the renowned Middle Eastern carpet firm Iwan Maktabi, created in collaboration with Lebanese design duo David/Nicolas as a response to the question: “Why don’t they make carpets like this anymore?” According to David/Nicolas, they were inspired by the elegance and simplicity of antique Ziegler and Agra carpets. So, the Beirut-based duo designed several hand-carded wool carpets, including “North” a long, wall-hung gray carpet with a minimalist geometric pattern. Other carpets on show were decorated with three-dimensional figures and patterns and shapes often found in traditional Oriental carpets.
Also on view in Iwan Maktabi’s section of the exhibition were ceramic Japanese-style raku-fired plates by Hala Matta decorated in large natural abstract forms in black and white.
“We have been working on the ‘Orientations’ collection for a year and a half and decided to reveal it for its world-premier at Nomad,” explained Mohamed Maktabi. “Nomad is the place for limited-edition, high-end and exclusive design and we also thought showing Hala Matta’s work would complement the aesthetics found in the carpet by David/Nicolas.”
A few steps away was a presentation from Jeddah-based Athr Gallery showcasing a collection called “Amma Baad” by Saudi designer Nasser Al-Salem. The works continue Al Salem’s contemporary approach to the practice of Arabic calligraphy. “Amma Baad” — which has no equivalent translation in the English — is a phrase used normally in initial salutations of official letters. Through his conceptual pieces, Al-Salem explores spatial and temporal order. The works are his way of imagining new dimensions.
“After Al Salem’s one-person exhibition at Delfina Foundation, London, followed by Casa Arabe, Madrid, we not only wanted to continue broadening his audience institutionally, but also among collectors. And Nomad provided this possibility,” said Alia Fattouh. director of Athr Gallery.
The Middle Eastern connection at this year’s Nomad St. Moritz may increase the whispers in the design crowd predicting an exciting location in the Middle East or Asia for a new iteration of the design showcase.
“The flexible and mobile format of the showcase allows us to explore new exciting markets, dare to go where other realities cannot happen due to structural limitations,” says Bellavance-Lecompte. “Our idea is to grow our community and create a team for the Americas and Asia. We love making our guests discover unseen places.”