Modernity and Arabesque may be strange bedfellows, yet the style is gaining ground in the regional design world. On the heels of the success of the celebrated furniture designers Karim Rashid and Nada Debs (from Egypt and Lebanon, respectively), an increasing number of designers and artists from the region are taking up the challenge of uniting the ultra-modern with an Arabic touch.
The design world has caught on and is taking note. At this year's Maison et Objet, the biannual design expo held in Paris, organisers singled out "authentic" Arabic designs as those en vogue in the wider marketplace. The problem plaguing the regional Middle East economy has not been a shortage of individuals merging Arab elements with modern aesthetics, but the fragmentation of such designers; exposure has been limited to local markets, and communication among designers scant.
With the launch of the website AlHoush.com, neither costly travel nor insider knowledge will serve as an obstacle between global customers and the furnishings and art produced by many regional designers. And communication among artists will be easier than ever. AlHoush.com will commence a new era of commerce between the global economy and talented Arabs. According to the co-founder Yasmine Berberoglu, users everywhere in the world can begin browsing and buying from the site next month. The site will include features that highlight trending artists or items.
Yasmine's partner, Rashid Abdelhamid, who developed the concept with Yasmine and Ehab Shanti, explains that the word "housh" means the "shelter or common space around which traditional Arab homes are built".
"We are taking that concept of 'common space' and translating it into a virtual space for artists and designers," explains Ehab, whose Amandla Group, a communications consultancy based in Amman, is running the site.
Users will not only be able to purchase distinct, modern Arab art, furniture, jewellery and fashion, but also gain access to the site's social networking platform. "Al Housh's features will enable artists and designers to interact with fans, display products and comment freely, all with full Facebook and Twitter integration," says Ehab. The integration with social media networks ensures that designers' work is shared in modern and novel ways, permitting a person in Beirut, for example, to see the artistry and technical precision of someone in Bahrain, or for a proprietor in New York to source from a designer in Amman. Through the limitless communication and commerce, the site's founders are confident that the crux of Arab culture will receive its due. "The arts scene is the true hidden treasure of Arab innovation," says Ehab.
Products featured on the site fall under five categories: furniture, art, accessories, fashion and niche cosmetics, with the aim of gaining products from all 22 Arab countries. "All the designs must have a modern outlook with an Arab touch," says Rashid, adding that artists and designers who wish to use the site must first go through a strict vetting process, with particular attention paid to the designer's aesthetic choices. "One of our selection criteria is that the works need to be ultra modern and innovative, with an Arabic flavour," explains Ehab.
The site will feature 100 designers at its launch, with 200 more expected to join in the next six months. Established talents who have already signed up include the Iraqi artist Hana Sadiq, the Syrian artist Rana Sunaij and the Iraqi artist Fadel Dabbagh. The site will also include furniture and home accessories designed by Rashid.
In addition, Ehab says, the site will feature numerous artworks by painters in Gaza and the West Bank, owing to his and Rashid's extensive network of Palestinian artists and designers. Unesco's Ramallah office also will help bolstering the site's promotion of Palestinian designers and artists.
As well as hosting a virtual gallery, the site will have a travelling international exhibition and forum featuring both emerging and established artists and designers, giving its talent further opportunities to network, view each other's work and gain market exposure.
"We want to empower the arts community, create economic opportunity, and showcase Arab artists," explains Ehab. Yasmine adds that the website will eliminate barriers for struggling artists to gain publicity: "Most artists and designers cannot afford a website, but our website is an instant international platform."
In a time when the Arab world is being rocked by the communication revolution, AlHoush.com is a step towards constructive and entrepreneurial applications for the internet, as well as an ambassador of Arab art, culture and heritage.