Beauty is goodness written in matter. This sixteenth-century Islamic proverb appears on a poster suspended above Khai Liew’s studio floor as a daily reminder of the ambition driving the Malaysian-born designer’s atelier. Beneath this sign, timber is shaped and smoothed into furniture that might be best described as ‘sculpture for use’, objects that offer as much to the beholder in sight and touch as in service.
As for Liew’s work for Divided Worlds, where the traditional measure of furniture’s ‘usefulness’ becomes a matter of abstraction, his skill is thrown into relief. It lies in his fluency, in his ability to translate the qualities of ‘goodness’ – clarity, purposefulness, balance – into matter, so that his objects slip fluidly between character and narrator of our stories. In their graceful material weight they quietly tell of their ability to witness and to celebrate, providing deliberate salve to the fast pace in which we increasingly experience the present.