Every artist lives in a box. This box is where the world and their society put them. It is made of issues and restrictions of various textures: copyrights, creative space, clients, social norms, pricing, identity, and all things taboo. There is much debate as to which came first, the box or the restrictions. But who cares? What matters is what the artist does with the box. Flip it, toss it, decorate it, accept it, keep it aside, overlook it, think outside of it, balance it, forget it.
Ahmad Angawi, 26, has decided to embrace the box. He has one foot in and the other foot out. From his hair to his fashion sense, he emits a hip, young, indie, ultra-modern, x-generationist aura. It’s a pleasant surprise to meet someone who can be this modern, and at the same time deeply-rooted to his origins, his culture, and his religion.
Angawi credits his family for these values. His father Dr. Sami Angawi, president of Amar Center for Architecture, is an architect, and his mother Mrs. Amira Mashat, is an interior designer. Coming from a family of artists and designers, it’s not hard to see where he gets the artistic genes. “I was virtually brainwashed into Product Design,” he jokes.
Much of this influence is evident in his work. As a young student in Jeddah, he recalls his teachers’ disbelief upon seeing his class table carved with all kinds of designs. One of his very first pieces of art was an ornament for couples: he carved the couple’s initials into separate blocks of wood that, when put together, became a unified piece of art. He also used to make name souvenirs in English which were simultaneously English on one side, and Arabic on the other side.
As a product designer, he aims to fuse modern ideas with traditional ones. His first piece was designed when he was a student in New York’s Pratt Institute.
“A lot of my work is influenced by what is going on around me, my current situation and how it affects me,” he says. “Taking into consideration my tight schedule, and my duty as a Muslim to pray, I came up with this idea of a bag where I can put my books and at the same time, when the flap is unfolded, use as a prayer mat.”
To better understand his line of work, he talks to us about the Product Design industry. “Product design is really all about problem solving,” he says. “It is a generic term for the creation of an object that originates from design ideas in the form of drawings, sketches, prototypes or models, through a process of design that extends to the object’s production, logistics and marketing.”
“Designers need to be in line with and meet people’s needs. They should clearly identify the relationships between the past, present and future, and the potential effects of political, social and emotional influences within their environment.”
Design as a Statement :
Designers might look at an object and alter the overall perception of it in creating something new. Technological development in logistics and information systems bring global neighbours closer to each other and enable them to communicate and exchange cultural values through many vehicles of expression. One of his designs, East Meets West, accurately exemplifies this statement. It demonstrates the archetypal concept of Mezan, synonymous to the concepts of sustainable design, eco design and environmental design, which asserts that we need not look further than our own faith and lifestyles for any idea or creation that benefits us as humans, and our nature.
Hybrid Designs :
“A hybrid product is formed when two or more objects are merged to create something new while retaining a visible reference to its past form. Hybridizing questions the relevance of an object, and ultimately, signifies an element of progressive thought that challenges the basic truth and reason behind the product.
“Through this approach, we experience new ways of conveying functionality, ethics and meanings. It shows how influential the actual design process can be as opposed to the constant need for completely new objects. Design reveals its character through artistic expression.”
His design, Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder, validates this concept. “Sometimes you have to look at things in a different way in order to appreciate them,” he elaborates.
Coming from a part of the world that has always been considered by the west as exclusive and painfully traditional hasn’t stopped this artist from doing what he’s always loved doing. He sees the advantages of being a product designer in this region.
“Jeddah is a great place to be a product designer. To start off, there is a market. There is a need to use products from this region. We want to use products that are tailored to our customs and needs, and that would better serve our purpose. The products that surround us give us a certain lifestyle, whether or not we are conscious of it.
“Every product comes with a particular habit of use, and that habit rose from a specific need rooted in the culture of the user.
Although he has nothing against the corporate world, he is hoping to push other designers to be more original and individual, to follow their intuition, and to put their soul into their art.
On the life-long dilemma between mass production and individual art, he says: “It’s really like taking the elevator or the stairs, you know. Both can take you up. One is powered by electricity and requires minimal effort. The other requires some effort on your part, but will also help develop some muscles. It’s how you look at it.”
“I hope we could fuse our modern life and our heritage, develop the one and preserve the other. When someone wants to look into a certain culture, they look into that culture’s art, and the message it puts across, and that’s where it starts.”
“Since most companies and industries move production around the world to locate the greatest revenues for mass-produced design and handcrafted items, a fair balance in socio-political and economic issues needs to be addressed.
The solution could lie in the way we work, and in increasing our awareness of different approaches to problem-solving within this issue of design morality.
Some designers and organizations work effectively with talented craftsmen who specialize in developing product that are created in mutually beneficial economies.
Traditional, ornamental methods could be re-launched into product design with a fresh new perspective that creates interest with a degree of ambiguity and mystery.
Reasserting the Mezan concept, Angawi expounds further on balancing our need for new products, and our concern for design morality. “We can address ways to improve and create design methods. It is now that we should listen to our conscience concerning design morality and, ultimately, the necessity of design.”