Khaled El Mays’ surrealist jungle

Khaled El Mays,

Design, Antonella Galli, Interviste,

A well-known name on the Lebanese scene, sought-after by collectors, reserved (and busy) enough to seem elusive, the designer conquered Nina Yashar, the mind and soul behind Milanese gallery Nilufar, which hosts an installation featuring his Jungle collection. But the best is yet to come…

Khaled El Mays’ surrealist jungle

Viale Lancetti is farther out than the sparkling Milan of Piazza Gae Aulenti, north of the Monumental Cemetery, out past Scalo Farini, in the city’s old-fashioned suburbs. On Viale Lancetti, between the abandoned factories and those still in operation, is Nilufar Depot, a former silverware factory hosting the 1500 square metre expansion on the well-known Milanese gallery founded by Nina Yashar in Via della Spiga. Nilufar is a creative space for forging connections and conducting research in the field of quality design, of the past and present, through experimentation. The Depot currently hosts an installation showcasing the Jungle collection by increasingly successful Lebanese designer Khaled El Mays. I went to visit because I wanted to see for myself certain items I had seen on the internet that looked like something out of a Surrealist artwork: lamps with bases that twist and writhe like snakes, dishevelled armchairs like the fur of some strange animal. I expected to be surprised, and I was right. Ms. Yashar has an exceptional nose for new talent!

At the back of the Depot, a big, brightly lit space in a raw contemporary style, I was taken down into a sort of vault immersed in hues of green and gold, like a jungle at sunset. The walls had been transformed into a scenario (the Garden of Eden) packed with palm trees and exotic foliage by the magnificent brush of artist Federica Perazzoli, creating a truly immersive atmosphere. Dotted here and there were the armchairs, benches, cabinets, lamps, mirrors and coffee tables of Khaled El Mays’ Jungle collection.

From far away, what you notice first is their organic qualities, asymmetrical, irregular shapes and references to the natural world; upon closer inspection, this impression turns into a triumph of details splendidly made out of natural materials with the utmost skill: a cabinet finished with a sophisticated weave of rushes and rattan, with the handles on the drawers made out of pieces of red and yellow leather; the upholstery of the chairs, with its soft fringes of recycled hide; the elephant feet of the table; the sofas with backrests shaped like hills of green velvet; a little armchair like the den of some strange predator. The beauty of the details is combined with the overall sense of wonder that these objects inspire. Khaled’s pieces are in demand all over the world, I’m told, especially in the United States. Their high value does not dampen the enthusiasm of the collectors and interior design studios, who find his creations to be an eloquent presence adding unique character to projects, polarising spaces with the power of the imagination.

We asked Khaled to help us place him on the contemporary design scene. “I consider my style organic, a response to a risk that is given the form of an intention”, he replied. And why did he have all his projects made by craftspeople? “I wanted to give my furnishings a human touch and continue to design situations that challenge the masters of manufacturing.” He doesn’t believe there is a ‘new wave’ underway in Lebanon, for as Khaled says, “design is design, anyone who designs something contributes to the progress of design and therefore to the debate that can arise out of his creations. I myself feel that I belong to the broader world of design and use all the methods that allow me to experiment the most.” We asked him how he crossed paths with Nina Yashar: “I first met her in Beirut, at the Design Biennial, in which I was invited to participate. I met Nina through Cherine Magrabi Tayeb, founder of The House of Today (the non-profit organisation for the promotion of Lebanese design culture that organises the Biennial, ed.).” Khaled admits that “Nina always has exciting new projects in mind. There will be something new coming up in June!”. Let’s keep in touch!

Antonella Galli

Captions & Credits
01 Caveau Salone2021 ph. Mattia Iotti Courtesy Nilufar
02 Khaled & Nina Yashar portrait Courtesy Nilufar
03-14 Caveau Salone2021 ph. Mattia Iotti Courtesy Nilufar
15-20 Khaled El Mays, Snake floor lamp, Jungle, Courtesy Nilufar, Khaled El Mays


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