By advocating exposure and collaboration, Cairo’s Le Lab takes the region on a journey to experiment with collectible design.
Art is often described as a method of liberation, a tool of expression, a means of communication; nonetheless, not many describe it as a journey, a treasure hunt. Always keeping an eye out for the next showstopper, waiting for that second when the heart skips a beat, art collectors are loyal lovers guided by their well-trained eye and strategic taste. Embodying one’s fondness for collectible design, a respect for the region’s creativity, and keenness for excellence, Le Lab – Egypt’s first collectible-design gallery – promises to serve as a hub for talent, to realize the full potential of the local as well as regional art and design world. Founded by Egyptian collector Rasheed Kamel, the gallery is his way to acknowledge, showcase, and support the art and design scene in Egypt and the Middle East.
Located in the west side of Cairo, the contemporary collectible design gallery plans to push boundaries and transcend glass ceilings. With exposure and inspiration being at the heart of the gallery’s ethos, Le Lab intends to hone the market’s collective appreciation of design to facilitate progression. The gallery’s recent participation in Dubai Design Week and Nomad St. Moritz is an honest reflection of Kamel’s vision. “The design scene has been overlooked in Egypt, although the country has a treasure trove of craftsmanship that we are proud to highlight and promote. Our aim is to nourish the Egyptian and equally the regional Middle East design landscape, with an eye to North Africa soon, by creating a space for artists to expand their horizons, learn from one another and, most importantly, experiment. Hence our naming Le Lab, an experimental atelier,” says Kamel with outspoken passion.
One of the elements at the forefront when conceptualizing Le Lab was the need to balance relevance and international standards. “We like to describe Le Lab as a ‘raw space with a twist,’” Kamel says. “Cautious to not come across as dry and alienating to the public, we incorporated warm, natural textures such as wood and stone to heighten the sensorial journey. We also included architectural elements and archways, which added an element of surprise. After all, art collectors are always on the hunt for their next great find and turning a corner at Le Lab gives it the sense of a playful treasure hunt.”
Right at the heart of this rewarding maze stands Omar Chakil’s unexpected love story. Suite Anima is the designer’s 22-piece collection of sculptures currently on display at Le Lab. Entirely made from the pharaohs’ beloved alabaster, the collection marks Chakil’s first attempt to locally source, manufacture, and showcase his work. “I first came to Egypt with the desire to work with local material. I have been doing interiors for a while and then I started doing products in Paris, Italy, and Beirut and I thought that I must try to do something in Egypt.” The designer continues, “I bought a book that had all the traditional Egyptian crafts, brass, Khayameya, glass… Alabaster was one of them. However, I really did not like it at first sight.” It was not until he implemented his research and experimentation that he fully opened to the medium. “I did one piece, and I was blown away by the beauty of this stone that is emblematic of Egypt. That piece was the beginning of a love story because I never planned to only work with alabaster. The first piece had such a big impact on me that I decided to keep working with it because it is so emblematic of Egypt; moreover, it builds a bridge between the distant past and the present. That piece, the Push Stool, took me on a journey to tell a story, put a lot of spirituality in it and try to bring some of the poetry that I like to see in things.” Aiming to build bridges between people and cultures by telling stories through craftsmanship, the multidisciplinarian artist worked in the field of interior design for more than two decades before delving into collectible design in 2018, after attending the NABA design school in Milan. Residing in Paris, Cairo, and Beirut, Chakil attempts through this collection to highlight the importance of mixing heritage, culture, and creativity in the global artistic dialogue.
Halfway through the three-month showcase, both Chakil and Kamel are proudly satisfied. “This is the beginning of a real adventure, and we are quite happily surprised by the response of people. I thought that most who would buy the pieces would be foreigners but on the contrary, a lot of Egyptians are embracing it. They are open to the idea that there are creative ways to reinvent materials that are local. It is super exciting,” concludes Chakil optimistically.
Originally published in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of Vogue Man Arabia