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The place of design and fashion in North Africa

Chief-Curator: António Pinto Ribeiro

Coordinator: Frederico Duarte

12 May 2012 - 9:30 – 17:30

Auditorium 3 of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation

Ever since the time of Herodotus, the history of North Africa has also been the history of its imaginary. Beyond its geographical, religious or political borders, this region has been created and recreated in forms, images, words and sounds that are as different from one another as those of Ingres, Le Corbusier, Dizzie Gillespie and Yves Saint-Laurent, but also as different as those of Ibn Battuta, Umm Kulthum or Abdellatif Kechiche. The profound changes that have recently taken place in the streets and political regimes of the region’s three new democratic States have opened up a whole new field for creativity, but also for the development of specific projects, for the artists and designers of the Maghreb. At a time when a whole region is reinventing itself, in what way can art, but above all design, contribute towards our questioning of these imaginaries and our discovering new places for the imagination of its creators and citizens?

From the imaginary to imagination: The place of design and fashion in North Africa

Frederico Duarte studied Communication Design in Lisbon and has worked as a designer in Malaysia and Italy. In 2010, he completed his Master’s Degree in Design Criticism at the School of Visual Arts in New York. As a design critic and curator, he has written a number of articles and essays since 2006, contributing to both books and catalogues, giving lectures and workshops, curating exhibitions and organising events in the areas of design, architecture and creativity. He currently works as a lecturer at the Higher School of Art and Design (ESAD) in Caldas da Rainha  and at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Lisbon.


Opening of the Observatory by the Chief-Curator, António Pinto Ribeiro

Chair: Frederico Duarte

The space between – The photography of Majida Khattari

Mirian Tavares (with the collaboration of Sílvia Vieira) – CIAC, Faro 

Toute poésie est de circonstance 
Eugène Delacroix

The Moroccan artist Majida Khattari uses photography, installations and fashion parades as a provocation/reflection on the role of the veil in the Muslim universe and the western imaginary. In the series of photographs entitled Orientalismes, the artist recreates the paintings of Delacroix in a subversive manner. The relationship with the painter’s oeuvre goes far beyond the mere question of its themes and can be deepened even further. When talking about the work of Delacroix in Documents No. 5, in 1930, Paul Jamot says that, in the artist’s hands, any theme is converted into a form of revelation and a tragic vision, both in the desperate gestures of men engaged in a struggle and in the apparent lassitude of young female captives. The use that Majida Khattari makes of Delacroix’s Orientalist images absorbs not only their tragic sense, but also the idea of the image as a means of rendering everyday gestures both eternal and universal. The veils that, in her work, both conceal and reveal function as mechanisms that enable us to see what people wish to hide. This is the procedure followed in her parades-installations, which mark out an ambiguous space between the self and the other. Between what is seen and what is shown.

Mirian Nogueira Tavares is an Associate Professor at the University of the Algarve, where she is the director of the Master’s Degree in Communication, Culture and Arts and the First Degree in Visual Arts. Her educational background is in Communication Sciences, Semiotics and Cultural Studies (with a PhD in Contemporary Communication and Culture, at the Federal University of Baía) and her research work and theoretical production have been centred on fields related with Cinema, Literature and other Arts, as well as in the areas of cinematic and artistic aesthetics. She is currently the coordinator of CIAC  (Research Centre in Arts and Communication).

Portrait of the functionality of small workshops of African fashion
Sandra Muendane – Centre of African and Development Studies (CesA), Lisbon

Everywhere in the world, the work of fashion design involves a first phase that essentially consists of putting collections together. It is the same in Africa, where fashion designers present their collections at fashion parades that are organised all over the continent, making contacts with potential buyers, exchanging experiences with their peers and stimulating the competitiveness of their industry. The more commercial aspects of fashion design are geared towards the creation of models that are sold in the retail market, at boutiques, and which call for a direct contact to be established between the designer and the customer. The differentiation in terms of marketing is centred less on the question of price and more on materials and on innovation or originality in terms of form. The keen competition to be noted between designers operating at the level of small-scale production also opens up the possibility of using the fashion and clothes industry as a more profitable alternative, especially in the case of the export market.

Sandra Muendane is a Mozambican designer and a graduate in the Architecture of Fashion Design from the Lisbon Technical University, where she specialised in Strategic Design and Innovation. She has taken part in various parades, exhibitions, workshops and artistic residencies in Africa, Europe and North America.

Coffee Break

Dimensions of Contemporary Fashion Design in Cairo 
Susanne Küemper – Berlin

A melting pot of Islamic, African and other cultural influences, Cairo is today a global meeting-point for contemporary art, media and style. The 2011 Egyptian revolution brought hopes of a more democratic and open-minded society, but conservative Islamic movements now gaining ground pose a threat to the young, innovative thinkers who fought whole-heartedly to shape a brighter future. By creating contemporary styles yet remaining true to their artistic origins, Cairo’s young designers bridge modernity with tradition and celebrate cultural and religious diversity. But particularly during Egypt’s current turmoil and challenges, it’s increasingly vital for Cairo’s artistic community to connect to liberal societies and international networks for professional encouragement and personal support. Those who open doors for these revolutionary spirits prove truly subversive creativity never goes out of fashion.

Susanne Küemper is a fashion designer. She spent the past thirteen years between her native country Germany and Egypt. From 1999 to 2005 she was part of a team who established a brand new fashion design department at Helwan University’s Faculty of Applied Arts in Cairo – the first of its kind at an Egyptian University. Susanne also managed an industrial fashion design atelier providing Egyptian garment producers with design-related skills and worked on design and economical empowerment projects on behalf of several international foundations and cultural institutions. Since 2011 she runs design workshops and seminars in cooperation with the Import Shop trade show in Berlin and contemporary fashion designers in Cairo.

Lunch Break

Chair: António Pinto Ribeiro

A City in Flux: New modes of urban intervention in Cairo since January 2011
Omar Nagati – Cairo

A breakdown of the security apparatus in Cairo in January 2011 has since generated new modes of informal urban interventions in public space that in both kind and measure would have been previously unimaginable. These range from peddlers and shops taking over the streets and sidewalks to developments alongside highways and ring road access ramps built by local communities. The same fluid condition that produced new forms of cultural and artistic expressions in public space – such as graffiti, street performances, art fairs and festivals – has triggered individuals and communities to challenge the increasingly weak and incapacitated state in the formalization and legitimization process of their surroundings. These actions may testify to a divided society, ongoing ideological battles or street warfare, but they also pose new, alternative modes of urban development “from below” that are taking over a city under rapid change that faces a promising, yet unpredictable future.

Omar Nagati is a Ph.D candidate and a practicing architect/urban planner who currently lives in Cairo. A graduate of Cairo University, he studied and taught at University of British Columbia and UC Berkeley, with a specific focus on informal urbanism. Nagati adopts an interdisciplinary approach to questions of urban history and design, and engages in a comparative analysis of urbanization processes in developing countries. He teaches Urban Design Studio at the Modern Sciences and Arts University in Giza and has recently co-founded CLUSTER, a new platform for urban research and design initiatives in downtown Cairo.

The Arab Spring in Tunisia – A Semiotic Perspective
Nuno Coelho – University of Coimbra

All political regimes are supported by a propaganda apparatus, seen not only as a simple device for disseminating information, but also as a means of homogenising public opinion. The doctrine and ideology of a political regime inevitably depend on the iconography that this apparatus produces. When a State undergoes a sudden regime change, it is natural for the existing iconography to be rapidly replaced by a new visual lexicon. In the change from a dictatorial regime to a democratic regime, images become instruments that are used by political parties, but also by other organisations and social movements to transmit their ideas and messages. In Tunisia, the intense campaign of civil resistance that led to the overthrow of the Ben Ali regime paved the way for the first free elections of the new State, which enjoyed the participation of hundreds of parties and lists of candidates. What new iconography has been used to convey the profound change being experienced by people who lived for more than two decades under a dictatorship and are only now beginning to live together in a democracy?

Nuno Coelho is a communication designer and a lecturer in the undergraduate and Master’s Degree courses in Design and Multimedia at the University of Coimbra. He lives in Porto. He holds a PhD in Contemporary Art from the University of Coimbra and a Master’s Degree in Design and Graphic Production from the University of Barcelona, having originally graduated in Communication Design and Graphic Art at the University of Porto. As a designer, he has produced works for various organisations in Germany, Spain, Ethiopia, Norway, Palestine, Portugal and the United Kingdom. He has presented his work at both exhibitions and lectures in Germany, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Spain, Greece, Italy, Mexico and Portugal.

15:50 – 16:10
Coffee Break

Al-Kafiye Project
Tarek Atrissi – Kaflab Foundation

The Kafiye (traditional Arab male headscarf) is the strongest symbol to come out of the Arab contemporary world. Treading the realms of street, politics, revolution, traditional garb, trends and catwalks, the Kafiye has transcended form and various functions to become more than just a simple object. And while in 2009 the Kafiye was only a thesis research topic, in 2012 it morphed into a very timely subject. To take our vision forward we created Kaflab, a foundation dedicated to applying design thinking (deconstructing then reconstructing) to Arab identity. By creating a platform for designers and the possibility of telling a different story, we want to open up a discourse on an issue tainted with stereotypes, negativity and muddled with religion. In our presentation we will uncover an ambitious project that includes a website, event, exhibition and a book. It’s time for plan B – or, rather, Plan Kaf.

Kaflab (Tarek Atrissi and Hala A.Malak) KAFLAB is a foundation dedicated to re-define Arab identity through design. Starting from the initial question of ‘What Arab is’, Kaflab looks to analyze the elements, symbols and icons that truly define this rich culture. Kaflab is co-founded by design critic Hala A.Malak and Tarek Atrissi, who will be representing Kaflab. Atrissi runs a leading Netherlands-based design studio, Tarek Atrissi Design, specializing in Arabic design, branding and typography.