An interview with ICD Brookfield Place’s Arts & Events Manager.

Tasmeem didn’t actually start out as Tasmeem. But when the first poster project happened in 2021, everyone realised why it was critical to expand this exhibition and turn it into something substantial.

“We wanted to make a whole brand out of it called Tasmeem, and every summer we’d have a poster show. But we didn’t have the jury the first year, so we said, how do we open it up and make it inclusive?” shares ICD Brookfield Place’s Art & Events manager, Malak Abu Qaoud. “It’s summertime, so things are quiet, and we wanted to give people something fun to work on. So we opened it up to students, practitioners, and kids who wanted to learn graphic design, and we got so many submissions, and that’s when we realised people want to partake and they want to participate.”

As a result, Tasmeem continues to grow every year and introduce graphic design in the region, experimenting with Arabic lettering and displaying works through a regional artistic lens. For the latest Tasmeem event, which runs until August 31st, we had to chance to sit with Abu Qaoud and ask her a few questions.

١. What pushed you to work on an exhibition dedicated to experimental design, typography and graphic design?

So at first, it was about having a diverse medium of artwork shown in Brookfield, so it wasn’t just
about paintings and sculptures or just digital work. We tried to cover a lot of different types of
artwork and types of formats. And about the first poster project that we did…I actually got a
message from the artist Christopher Joshua Benton. He commented on my photo, and he said, so good to see graphic design representation in the region; there’s a serious lack of that.

I thought it was incredible that someone noticed and commented and that we had created a little bit of impact. The building was still brand new at the time; it was the summer of 2021. So we had just opened, and the following year, I thought, okay, I need to make a poster project, and so Tasmeem was born. It was strictly dedicated to graphic design and typography. And the past few years, we’ve had a call for submission and jury members. We wanted to have a very inclusive ecosystem of when we get the artwork, it goes through the jury members, and they select it, but we also have a curator and a writer for the prompt. In the process, we wanted to make it very open with the community and very young and dedicated to regional graphic designers and designers and typographers.

٢. What would you say is the aim of an exhibition like Tasmeem?

I think, essentially, it’s to educate. We’re in a very corporate area and while we’re not part of the DIFC, it’s still a super corporate building…so for us, coming in here and putting our art programme, which is a global programme because Arts Brookfield is a part of every single Brookfield location globally, is our duty. Getting a project like Tasmeen, which is a young show, is also to educate our tenants and to give back to the community. I feel one of our main duties, as an arts programme, is to showcase regional, emerging and established artists within a huge corporate building and show all these corporate tenants that we have an incredible platform. We need to use this platform to give back to the city and to the region.

٣. I’m interested in the idea of wanting to share an artistic point of view within a corporate environment.

We wanted to create a community with the rest of Dubai; I didn’t want to be disconnected just because we are in DIFC. I want to have the creative community come here, and that’s why I focus a lot on the young community. And honestly, it’s been really good. One of the first comments that I got, initially, when we started this art programme and the building was still opening up was, “Really? A corporate building? DIFC with an arts programme? What is this? What are you trying to do?”

A big concern of mine was working with only international artists and not engaging with the community. But our strategy is to work with regional artists, young, and established, and then as we grow, then it’s okay to also have a mix of big international artists – just like we did with Takashi Murakami. Which was so incredible because he wanted to meet the local creatives. The night before the opening, we had a really big dinner at Sultan Al Qassemi’s house where Sultan invited young creatives from the region and a lot of creators and architects to sit at a dinner table outside in his garden with Murakami.

And I also want our men in suits, our “finance bros” to understand that there’s there is good art out there and we want to educate them about the great things happening in the region.

٤. Tell me more about Tasmeem’s workshops and events. How do you engage the community?

We like to programme around every exhibition that we have. Last Saturday, we had Creative Linkup host a talk, and a panel discussion, followed by a workshop in the space with some bites, music, and good vibes. It’s part of a close networking event, but it also took place in Tasmeem where the panellists talked more about their work behind the posters and the process of graphic design and their work. I think it’s also really important not to just talk about the art that’s there but also about their process as designers and artists. Everyone wants to know how creatives come up with their designs, and how they follow through. I hope for Tasmeem in the future to take more of an educational path in which it’s not just a one-time event during the year.

٥. How do you feel about the lack of graphic design discourse in the region?

I think that comment from Christopher was like my epiphany moment. My moment of realisation that he was right. And then, when we started doing Tasmeem, we got an overwhelming response back because I think the only ones that I know of are the Abu Dhabi 100 Best Arabic Posters. So I feel like it’s such an underrated artwork, and I would like more people to know that it exists.

٦. And what would you hope that Tasmeem provides for the creatives participating?

First and foremost, offering them a platform and visibility. We have a selection of incredible jury members who all come from excellent professional backgrounds. And so for them to see all of the submissions, and then for them to select the artists, that already gives the different jury members a bit of visibility about the artists in the region. Also, collaboration is super important. I love when an exhibiting artist collaborates with a gallery. I want more collaboration between our artists and different galleries in the region. That’s how we support each other, grow, and create an ecosystem.

٧. There is no one curator for the show, but a jury. Does that help create a more inclusive environment?

Absolutely. We want it to be an inclusive and collaborative environment. When we get the young writer who writes the prompts, they already have some background in the field. The jury members are selected because of their backgrounds and what they do, and they come from diverse backgrounds as well which helps create a more collaborative environment. It’s a very young exhibition, and we want everyone to partake. We also offer a prize to the winners. We pay all of our creatives. Our artists are paid even if it’s a small branding project. And it’s never a deal that we only offer “visibility.”

It’s a serious practice. Pay is so important because support isn’t just about showing their work but also supporting them financially. This is their job.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Rand Al-Hadethi is an art, culture, and fashion writer who approaches all her creative endeavours with a penchant for storytelling. She explores the intersection of fashion, culture, and society and sheds light on talent and cultural movements across the Middle East and the world. Rand also publishes a bi-monthly themed substack newsletter called WebWeaver™. To reach Rand, email her at rand@khamsa5.com or follow her on social media @rundoozz.
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