Nada Debs’ Poetic Objects: Hybrids of American, Japanese and Middle Eastern Cultures

Nélida Nassar   02.16.2016

Nada Debs, a Lebanese and Japanese designer, has spent more than fifteen years creating pieces largely using inlayed mother of pearl encrusted into arabesque designs. Socially and artistically connected to the Middle East, where she elected to live and work, she is greatly inspired by the region’s traditional craftsmanship as well as by minimalist Japanese art, and is clearly influenced by the biomorphic style found in the two. Debs is internationally recognized as one of today’s most innovative designers both for her publicly accessible furniture and for a variety of smaller objects. She is also a notably successful businesswoman.

The overarching concept informing Debs’s work is her passionate desire to create items that can be used in either a social or private environment. She realizes this goal in myriad ways: mass produced furniture and lamps; private commissions of entire interiors; and manipulations and experimentations in a variety of materials, including resin, plexiglass, metal, and fabrics. Debs wants to call attention to the dichotomies inherent in much of her work. For example, she merges geometric and organic forms, finding value in both positive and negative space, and she creates pieces that challenge the boundaries of design and art. This approach is evident not only in her large-scale works evoking abstracted forms but also in the hybridity of ornamentation as well as simplicity. Yet, her objects integrate and retain a distinct sensibility through their use of a rich array of elements and their particular blend of Middle Eastern roots, Japanese heritage and American influence.

Culture in the Middle East has undergone a rather dramatic transformation during the last thirty years, as Western technologies and concepts of government began to be examined and, where appropriate, adapted to local conditions. In the course of this program of modernization, Western-style stylistic canons have been challenged with vernacular discourses, and in the process Middle Eastern design — beyond the well-known and expected calligraphic memes — has found new platforms and resonance in the West. Bringing an objective, yet idiosyncratic eye to the fragmented reality of Middle Eastern life in the aftermath of the region’s turmoil and the Arab Spring, Debs’s work displays ambivalent responses to Western cultural and political influences. Resolute and undaunted, she forges ahead and redefines a tranquil Arab design language and identity that has received global recognition and acceptance.

Debs’ ultimate objective, to create and enhance private spaces with unique pieces, provides her career with a distinct direction and establishes her as a critical figure in the world of contemporary design. While in some respects representing a generation of designers who explore the complexities of modern Middle Eastern society, Debs’s achievement is unique. Starkly modernist in her detached, abstract treatment of everyday objects, she invests her pieces with a mystery and poetry that suggest larger, deeper metaphors.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.