Meet Samer Yamani, Curator of MENASA Emirati Design Platform at Expo 2020 Dubai

Lindsay Judge   |   03-10-2021

Samer Yamani, Curator of MENASA Emirati Design Platform discusses the project which invites local and international designers to celebrate the best of Emirati crafts and tradition.


As part of the Arts & Culture programmes at Expo 2020 Dubai MENASA – Emirati Design Platform has been created to shine a light on some of the incredible traditional crafts and traditions from the UAE. The MENASA project will help to showcase Emirati crafts in a contemporary way as international and local designers offer their own interpretation of some of these precious methods. More than 40 designers have been commissioned to develop exclusive design collections inspired by local crafts and stories from the UAE and the designs will be presented in a special space at Expo 2020 Dubai. A series of documentaries, shot on location around the UAE, will be exhibited alongside the design collections, to further educate visitors to Expo on the UAE’s arts and craft world.

As Curator of the project, Samer Yamani has been at the heart of the project since the beginning, bringing together the selection of designers and working closely with them to find new ways of showcases the best of Emirati heritage. We discover more about what the project has to offer and how it will help to change the perception of arts and crafts in the region.


Can you tell us a little about the MENASA project at Expo 2020 and what you hope to achieve with it?

The collective approach of MENASA, which means ‘platform’ in Arabic, is inspired by the theme and spirit of Expo 2020 Dubai, ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’. MENASA will curate, promote, and present the design and crafts scene in the UAE. By bringing together artisans and designers from the UAE and around the world, MENASA is nurturing a rich cultural and creative dialogue through design and innovation.


8,000 Waves: The Pearl Diving Story


Why do you believe it is important to showcase Emirati talents in the art and design sector and how is the platform supporting this?

MENASA aims to be the largest ever gathering of local and international designers celebrating Emirati crafts and design. MENASA maps the diversity and breadth of the Emirati design scene, showcasing established and emerging designers, as well as the public and private organisations that support the local crafts and design community. The eyes of the world will be on Dubai and the UAE for the six months of Expo 2020 and this presents a great opportunity for the design and crafts community.


How do you think the artists can be empowered through the platform MENASA?

The fact that these designers will be part of something as collaborative and immersive as Expo 2020 is in itself empowering. MENASA has brought together diverse players from across the Emirati crafts and design scene – artisans, designers and organisations – to present new and innovative design content, creating a collective and unique snapshot of the thriving creative activity across the UAE.

Why do you think it’s important to educate the world on the traditions and heritage of Emirati crafts?

To really get to know a country, one needs to understand its history and culture. The Emirati crafts on display at Expo 2020 represent rich, living traditions that go back in history. With the “Crafts Stories” for example, each story is told through a multi-layered journey that reflects many facets of the UAE, its landscape, people, traditions, values and identity.


8,000 Waves: The Pearl Diving Story


What would you like to see as the future of the UAE’s design and crafts scene?

I want it to thrive and prosper and be constantly reaching new territories and audiences. This can be achieved by merging the skills and the rich heritage of Emirati artisans with contemporary creativity and innovative techniques and materials.


Can you share details on some of the talented artists that our readers should know about?

More than 40 local and international designers were commissioned to develop exclusive design collections inspired by local crafts and stories from the UAE. These include Al Ghadeer UAE Crafts, Alia Bin Omair, Ammar Kalo, Bil Arabi, Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council, Khalid Shafar, and Tashkeel from the UAE, while international designers and design brands include BD Barcelona Design (Spain), Estudio Campana (Brazil), Iwan Maktabi (Lebanon), Klove Studio (India), and Nicolas Jebran (Lebanon).


8,000 Waves: The Pearl Diving Story


Tell us about the space that the works will be showcased in?

All design pieces and collections will be exhibited and available for sale from MENASA’s design space, which will feature a dramatic 13-metre window display, designed by Carmelo Zappulla and Rami Al Ali, that merges 3D printing with local crafts. It will be located on the ground level of the Rove Expo 2020 hotel, next to Al Wasl Plaza, the heart of the Expo 2020 site.


What can you share about the documentaries that will accompany the works and how they will showcase the best of the UAE’s crafts scene?

A series of documentaries shot on location around the UAE, will also be exhibited alongside the design collections, drawing visitors further into the intimate worlds of artisans and their crafts and traditions, including clay, safeefa (palm frond weaving), talli (embroidery), sadu (bedouin weaving), gargour making (wire-crafted fish traps), pearl diving and coffee making.


8,000 Waves: The Pearl Diving Story


What are some highlights of the programme that we can expect to see throughout Expo 2020?

One of our crafts stories is 8,000 Waves: The Pearl Diving Story, which is a collaboration between Todomuta, a Spanish design studio, and Asateer, an Emirati design studio that specialises in the creation of handcrafted products from mother of pearl and raw materials. The studio was founded by Mohammed Al Suwaidi, the grandson of a pearl diver. The range evokes the history of pearl diving in the Emirates, which dates back approximately 8,000 years, the waves of the Arabian Gulf, the reflections of the sea, the sun and the light, and the shape of the boats that once carried the pearl divers for months at a time.

Another highlight is Designer of the Week which will present a unique snapshot of the thriving creative activity across the UAE by representing 24 UAE-based established and emerging designers, as well as public and private organisations that support local crafts and the design community, be it through funding, promotion, providing exhibition space or safeguarding skills.


What is a message you would send to our readers on why they should visit MENASA?

Crafts have a special, innate power to communicate a local culture, a nation and its identity. Design and creativity are global languages that all can perceive and understand. MENASA will present Emirati content through a contemporary lens, showcasing the diversity and vibrancy of the UAE’s craft and design scene. Expo 2020 Dubai will be the first World Expo ever held in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia region. It will also be the largest mega-event held in the world following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, Expo 2020 will be an important milestone, not just for the UAE in its Golden Jubilee year, but also for the global community. There will be a huge amount to see but don’t miss MENASA.