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The thrill of design on display with Injuve Young Spanish Designers’ Exhibition

Maybe the true sign of an excellent restaurant, where the utmost attention is paid to every detail, is the presence of designer toothpicks, often the very last and most forgettable element of any dining experience. It may seem a frivolous item to waste a designer’s creativity and skill on, but that – in the end – is the work of most designers: to create things that function so seamlessly we never have to think about how they do their jobs. But even the most tried and true objects can be innovated, and in Spain it may be more essential to have well-crafted toothpicks than anywhere else. In a tapas meal, they transform into silverware.  

Spanish Designer Pepa Pedrol Navarro has come up with the perfect delivery system for toothpicks: a matchbook that can be carried conveniently in a breast pocket, clean and ready for olive spearing at any moment.

Navarro’s toothpicks exemplify a theme that runs throughout the Injuve Young Designers’ Exhibition, now on view at the Gezira Art Center’s Ahmed Sabry Gallery, sponsored by the Spanish Embassy in Cairo. Many of the carefully crafted items on display are functional objects that borrow their form from something else, or otherwise disguise themselves.  A wall covered in ceramic tiles in a far corner of the gallery, designed by the studio Fluye, reveals on closer inspection a small closet and drawer, which disappear when closed.

Rafael Vinader and Virgina Bru Artero’s “Sombrero_o_bolsa” (“hat_o_bag”) is, as the name suggests, a velvety women’s hat that unzips and expands into a puffy, roomy handbag.  Ana Augustin Valderama’s combination shoe is disguised as a simple black high-heel with a pastel accent. But the color-accent insert can be removed and worn as a separate flat shoe, so a working woman can relieve her sore ankles and continue to look respectable.

Pepa Pedrol Navarro’s “Espadrille + Babucha” shoes take a turn towards social commentary, and are also one of the more attractive items in the exhibition. The shoes, made from a canvas and leather top, with rope soles and a ribbon strap, combine the traditional slippers of the Pyrenees, espadrilles, with babuchas, footwear from Spain’s neighbor to the South, Morocco.  Navarro’s creation includes extra flourishes such as a long, curling toe – elf-style – and a black ribbon that wraps up around the ankle like a ballet slipper. The result is a shoe that feels as though it has some distinct but impossible to place heritage.

It takes on various characters: a snowshoe to wear in the summer, an elven country sandal, a ballet slipper designed for prancing through the forest. Navarro writes of her eccentric but lovely footwear in the accompanying booklet that it is a “cultural object which seeks to be a symbol of acceptance… and raise questions on the coexistence of different populations.”

Injuve is presented as an expression of the vital creative work coming out of Spain, described in the press material as “a touch-stone of the state of emerging art,” underlining the central position of design in Spain’s creative fields.

Culture Counselor for the Spanish Embassy in Cairo, Ana Maria Alonso, echoed this sentiment, “you cannot imagine how big design is in Spain,” she told Al-Masry Al-Youm. “It is the perfect marriage between the arts and enterprise.”

Much of the work on display at the Gezira Art Center also represents a perfect marriage between functionality and aesthetic experimentation. The objects are attractive because they are so satisfyingly simple and yet unexpected, twisting around a familiar idea into something useful, beautiful, and undeniably unique.

The objects in the exhibition constitute the most impressive items on display. And surprisingly, although Spain has a high profile in the fashion world, clothing was only a small element of the exhibition, represented by one designer, Viveka Goyanes, whose “Collection of Dandy Piracy” features various iterations of pirate stripes, depicted in photographs of women with gothic accessories and heavy eye make-up, a somewhat disappointing showing. The only other clothing in the exhibition was designed especially for dolls, by Virginia Bru Artero.

The Injuve Design Awards have been given out yearly by the Youth Institute in Spain for a decade now. Designers early in their career or recent graduates of university compete with projects submitted for the awards. A selection of work by the winning designers is then compiled into an exhibit to travel throughout Spain, and then internationally to a specific region. The exhibition is making the rounds in the Middle East this year for the first time, according to Alonso, coming to Cairo from Ankara and moving on from here to Beirut and Amman.

Many people might not know what to do with a lamp as well engineered as Javier Alejandro’s amoeba-like “Chromasoma,” or a chair as minimalist as Enoc Armengol Bermudez’s “Urban Stool,” if they had it in their home.  But the sheer cleverness of much of the work on display here makes Injuve a uniquely fun exhibition, and viewers might find themselves walking away with an altered conception of what a chair, or water pitcher, or lamp can be.

The Injuve Young Designers’ Exhibition is open for viewing daily, except Fridays, from 10 am to 2 pm and 5 pm to 9 pm at the Gezira Art Center, 1 El-Marsafy St., Zamalek, Cairo. Tel. 27373298

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