ATAB.LAB Chess Dhurries

ATAB.Lab by the African Son - Kenyan born, Melbourne based Maleik Njoroge Muito

A lover of beautifully made things and the triumph of human imagination. When he’s not modelling Maleik can be found @_alltribesarebeautiful_ or anywhere there’s a chess board ♟️

Photography by Wilhelm Philipp and provided by Maleik.

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Maleik Njoroge Muito on ATAB.LAB and Chess

We’ve had the pleasure of knowing Maleik for a while now and there probably isn't a topic he loves talking more about than chess. We asked him a few questions on how the ATAB.LAB Chess Dhurries came about - you can see our conversation below.

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On design and chess

The first project brought together my love of design and chess. The beauty of the game lies not only in its design and function, but what it offers the community. The game brings with it a universal language, governed by a logic which can only be appreciated and understood in practice.

The ATAB x Chess Dhurrie is an invitation to innovate. More than a chess board, it is an epicentre of ideas, encouraging active reflection on chess, art, and the friendships it builds.

Here, the chess player assumes the role of artist; with the sixty-four square grid transforming into a canvas for linear, multi-directional, flattened, non-perspectival painting gestures (or, chess moves), to emerge. As such, no two paintings or chess matches are the same.

The ATAB.Lab is an experimental pace to share in this journey.

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On the Chess Dhurrie

At the heart of the ATAB x Chess Dhurrie* is a dabu (mud resist) block printed pattern that reveals a tournament size chess board. The rigidity and bulkiness of the stereotypical chess board offers little flexibility in terms of where play can take place. By printing the chess board on fabric, the ATAB x Chess Dhurrie allows for convenient transport - able to be rolled up and unfurled wherever (and whenever) a game may present itself. Further to that, its size, design, and durability means when it is not in use, the dhurrie can serve as a coffee table rug or statement piece to add charm to any room.

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*Dhurrie [dur-ee] - noun
From Hindi dari
A hand woven rug or thin flat carpet
A heavy cotton rug of Indian origin

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About the pieces

A perfect pairing to this Chess Dhurrie are the XBLOX Chess Pieces designed by fellow chess lover, friend, and artist Jim Coady. Made of Thai rubberwood, these shapes offer didactic cues as to the movement and point of value of the chess pieces through geometric symbolism. The result is a set which transcends potential barriers such as age, language, or experience level; the objective is accessibility.

You cannot explain what a chess piece is without first expressing the rule it serves. What is a bishop if not the piece that can move diagonally across the board? A rook without its horizontal and vertical inclinations? The fact of the matter is, the rules define the piece. And thus, if we are to know a pawn or a queen only through its function, the idea of reimagining the chess set becomes an exciting project to embark on, rethinking not the rules of the game, but the tactility and utility of its tools.

Timeless in design, tactile and stackable, these pieces honour the earlier traditions of the game, whereby pieces were represented by simplistic geometric shapes rather than the standard Staunton chess set we have come to know.

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“For 25 years, I’ve been obsessed with the geometric beauty and perfection of these hardwood solids. The combinations of patterns using these six shapes is endless.” - Jim Coady, artist and creator of the XBLOX

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Anything else?

Of chess’ many origin stories, the tale of Caissa (kah-EE-suh) perhaps best captures the enchanting beauty of the game. Inspired by Marco Girolamo Vida’s 1527 poem Scacchia Ludus, English philologist Sir William Jones, wrote Caissa, detailing Mars’ attempt to win over the alluring yet elusive woman the poem is named after. Facing constant rejection, Mars laments:

Canst thou no play, no soothing game devise;
To make thee lovely in the damsel’s eyes?

Hearing the lovelorn Mars, Euphron - the god of sport and brother of Venus - fulfils his request:

He fram’d a tablet of celestial mold
Inlay’d with squares of silver and of gold;
Then of two metals form’d the warlike band,
That here compact in show of battle stand;
He taught the rules that guide the pensive game,
And call’d it Cassa from the dryad’s name:
(Whence Albion’s sons, who most its praise confess,
Approv’d the play, and nam’d it thoughtful Chess).

Mars gifts Caissa with the beautiful and elaborately designed chess set and proceeds to teach the goddess the ways of the game. In the end, he wins more than just her affection and she, eternal fame. Caissa’s legacy is one of luck, often thought to guide or inspire players on their journey through the game.

Shop ATAB.Lab here

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