Ayah Al Bitar: Bringing cultural change through art and design

Ayah Al Bitar: Bringing cultural change through art and design

Women's issues a key inspiration

Editor: Faizal Dahlawia

The humble bicycle seat receives a design metamorphosis by local artist Ayah Al Bitar who gives it functionality with an Arabian touch


resh from Dubai Design Week and with a sparkling new studio space, Ayah Al Bitar is ready to question tradition and encourage discussion with her creative and thought-provoking Wisada collection. Buro 24/7 Middle East spoke exclusively to the Saudi furniture and product designer about design, Dubai and those now infamous Springbok hair seats.

Congratulations on Wisada. It's earning rave reviews and we want to know what inspired you to create the collection...

Wisada is the first line-up in the Ayah Al Bitar design and basically it's floor seating in the shape of giant bicycle seats. The concept and shape behind it talks about transportation for women in Saudi, where they can't drive.

There's a movement that's slowly changing the system. They are progressing but it's very slow. There are so many 2D precedents like videos, online chat, posters, drawings, but I wanted to create something 3D, something that matches our culture that is meaningful and necessary to us, something tangible that is going to create social dialogue about the issue.

These tangible pieces automatically create a social dialogue. So it's a positive rebellion, it's bringing it back into the house to encourage discussion behind closed doors.

How did you design the seats to be both a talking point and a practical piece of furniture?

The concept was to have floor seating that you don't have to put away if you're not using it. It looks like an art installation. They're also light so we can take them anywhere. The leather is sand-proof, water-proof and cigarette-proof; it will create a mark but it will not create a hole. It is fire-resistant.

Ayah Al Bitar: Bringing cultural change through art and design (фото 1)

What is the new fur-inspired collection made from?

The winter collection is made out of Springbok fur that is dyed. Each piece takes three hides of Springbok skin so we have to cut the shape and the pattern and the stitching happens on the inside so it's very intricate work.

Why did you choose to do the photoshoot for Wisada in the desert?

The shoot goes back to the true essence of Arabian culture while showing modernity and how they can both exist at the same time without clashing with each other. The falcons we used existed during the time of the ancient Bedouins 400 years ago, not there's a new breed. I didn't want to use the new white breed because I wanted something authentic.

You talk about modernity and tradition co-existing. Have you seen a shift in the design scene here?

Dubai is just like New York but on a smaller scale and it's still growing. But in terms of culture, they're both melting pots. Saudi however is very different. Saudi is more one-cultured, very focused and in terms of design it's very primitive. They don't want to overdo it because they're very scared of losing their culture.

Ayah Al Bitar: Bringing cultural change through art and design (фото 2)

Is it important for you to keep the culture, without bringing in too much outside influence?

I think it's always very important to keep the culture. It's a very important stage to remind people that design is not change, design is just amending towards the better. I'm not creating something totally new but redesigning something that does not work, in a very modern way. People can accept and even like that.

Where did you study design and has that had an impact on your way of thinking?

As a Saudi studying in New York I'm trying to bring design into the culture and to show that just because you're designing something new, it doesn't mean you're stealing, taking away or erasing the culture. You can do both. It's difficult for a lot of people to understand that. In terms of design it was a great opportunity for me to see that part of the world and then bring back what I learnt and implement it here.

Ayah Al Bitar: Bringing cultural change through art and design (фото 3)

What's next for you?

As for my future projects, there is something hopefully coming in January. My aim is to design yearly products, with different variations.

Wisada is available at the Cities boutique in Galleria Mall, Dubai and in Riyadh.