A Family Affair Like No Other: An Interview with Wajih Nakkash

By Saif Haddad

7 min read

Wajih Nakkash, a household name in the design and art industry in Dubai. His career spans over thirty years and now he's joined by his two children in running what has become the family dynasty, while not forgetting its origins in curating and creating beautiful things. Wajih Nakkash speaks to MOJEH MEN in an interview that discussed his latest creations 'Liberty Window' and 'Tawazon,' which were created in collaboration with his son Omar.

During Dubai Design Week, Nakkash Gallery presented an exhibition that aims to shed light on the important work that regional designers are producing. Design Collective is a platform that houses exclusive stunning creation in NAKKASH at Dubai Design District. MOJEH MEN was invited to the reveal and spoke to some of the artists who expressed their appreciation for the opportunity and their excitement to be part of such a prestigious house.

Wajih Nakkash describes his family legacy as: “[it is] to bring forward best design practices from around the world, and today as we celebrate 35 years of tremendous success in the region.” 35 years later, Design Collective today offers a much-needed platform for young designers from across the region.

Nakkash calls it “the first of many” programmes that aim to promote the important work of regional designers.

Design Collective will exhibit works by Ayah Bitar, Sahar Bizri, Eva Szumilas, Nader Gammas, Ahmad Bazazo, and Tarek Elkassouf, all of which bring a different aesthetic with their unique designs and inspiring stories behind each one of the pieces.

MOJEH MEN also spoke to Wajih Nakkash and discusses his latest creations, family and business, and young artists in the region.

On Liberty Window

Liberty Window, one of two creation the father-son duo created recently, acts as a commentary on the mental & emotional mindset of the people of the Middle East, a region that has been plagued with a series of economic, political, and social conflicts

The piece depicts a window frame opening on to a beautiful blue sky with birds flying in the distance. The base of the piece is made up of darker colours to reflect the socio-economic state of the region and the enduring apathetic and negative atmosphere that it has created.

Progressively, towards the top of the piece, the colours begin to brighten as the lighter colours represent a brighter future that is possible for the region and its inhabitants. The metaphorical mood change is achieved through a series of colour changes that replace the darker more melancholic colours at the base. There is an additional use of colour change to reinforce both the bleak outlook and positive future, as the window frame, made of Delabre

MOJEH MEN: The inspiration of the Liberty Window rings true to many in the region, was there a specific incident or situation that inspired its creation? 

Wajih Nakkash: The Liberty Window is broadly inspired by the current political and sociological situation in the Middle East.  Every morning if you watch or read the news about our region, you are forced to confront a brutal situation, that tragedy, and our eternal hope for a brighter future are what inspired the creation of the Liberty Window.

On Tawazun

Named for the innovative design of the table that allows it to remain perfectly balanced despite the fact that the base of the table is not located in the centre of the piece. The inspiration behind the Tawazun collection, which translates as the Balance Collection in English, comes from the designers’ exploration of using radically different materials to create a well-balanced piece. The core design concept, focusing on the opposing factors of both heat, brass, and frigidness, marble, is reflected in aspects of the visual material affluence.

All three pieces of the Tawazun collection revolve around that juxtaposition of two contrasting materials, marble and brass & marble and iron. Both couples make use of the opposing nature of the materials, presenting the very solid marble with the more malleable iron or brass sheet.

MM: The Tawazun collection was created by experimenting with combining two radically different materials to create a well-balanced piece. What inspired you to experiment with these materials and to try to create a “balance?”

WN: Everything must have balance, as shown to us in our everyday lives, the ever-present dichotomies of darkness and light, hot and cold etc. We wanted to translate this concept through the designs of the Tawazun collection.

From the balance involved in using contrasting materials, the natural marble and the industrial steel, to the balanced collaboration of the two designers who worked on the Tawazun collection and even the way the piece is assembled, relying on the balance of the base and the top, balance truly epitomises the Tawazun collection.

MM: The Tawazun collection pieces can feature natural greenery, why was it important to bring in the natural or alive dimension to pieces that are already multidimensional?

WN: We wanted to feature natural greenery to add a touch of life to the rigidness of the stone and metal. The greenery also softens the materials used which continues to bring balances to the piece.

We always strive to include aspects of nature or greenery as it adds a touch of life to the very rigid stone and metal material. This also softens the piece giving it a more balanced aesthetic.

On Family, Business, And Young Artists

MM: Like many businesses, the NAKKASH Gallery is a family-run business, and your family is a family of artists, how do you reconcile family, business, and art?

WN: Reconciling family and art comes very naturally to us; at a very young age, both of my children began to have a real eye for design. Their mother worked in the fashion industry and I am an architect and interior designer, so between us, they grew up surrounded by art.

With that initial foundation of art appreciation, they went then on to develop their own unique style and tastes. They influence me, and I influence them and we work as a team with a general consensus on a certain aesthetic that we agree on to both curate our showrooms, but also in the case of the NAKKASH Collection, to design our own original pieces.

MM: A father-son duo is something that many admire, how is it like working together? And what do you do when you disagree?

WN: We work as a team, but given the generation gap and the natural differences in taste, it is, of course, normal to disagree. However, we are lucky that it doesn’t happen with us very often, when we do disagree, we each take time to think about the issue and process it before we discuss it once again with a fresh perspective and reconcile our ideas. We also have a great mediator, Aya, who makes sure we come to an agreement that we’re both happy with.

MM: You’re about to open the Design Collective exhibition at NAKKASH, which will feature regional artists. Why is it important to you to feature regional work and artists?

WN: As a more established brand and has been in the region for so long, we feel that it is imperative that we give back to our community, the best way to accomplish that, we thought, was to provide a platform for emerging artists and designers in the region to showcase their work. All six designers will have their work exhibited along internationally renowned brands in our showroom, that sort of opportunity was not available to me as a young designer and I feel it is very important to provide it for others.

MM: Is it hard for local and regional artists to get recognized for their work?

WN: I don’t think it is very hard to be recognised in a traditional sense,  nowadays designers have a wider range of opportunities to get recognition through the different platforms given to them from trade shows, internships and mentorship programs that are structured to enhance their opportunities and facilitate greater exposure to industry pioneers.

I also believe that in many ways a good product can speak for itself and stand out, additionally, more and more artists use the added benefits of a PR company to help gain them exposure in addition to the multitude of digital platforms and social media.  

MM: What is the one piece of advice you’d give an up-and-coming artist trying to receive recognition?

WN: Work hard and focus on your end product and the rest will come. Constantly work on improving yourself and your work will get the recognition it deserves.

MM: Finally, what should a prospective buyer keep in mind when buying new art?

WN: Set a budget!

I also think people rush into buying art too often, everyone should begin by exploring their tastes and preferences before diving in and purchasing anything. Take the time to understand what you gravitate towards and why, visit museums or exhibitions and look through magazines to get a better understanding of different art, noting what you enjoy about each piece.  Exploring and observing will build confidence and a greater awareness of your taste, and eventually, expose you to new styles and artists that you may not have found otherwise.

You should also think about your emotional and spiritual response to art pieces, learning more about the designers or artists will also help you understand the work better and changes the way you look at the art pieces.

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