PODCAST: Gallery Girl meets Bayan Dahdah

In this episode of the Gallery Girl podcast my guest is Bayan Dahdah, an artist based between Doha and Amman. Bayan is the creator of a gorgeous digital scrapbook as well as an artist’s stool called the sarj seat

“In nursery I used to be the last kid in the class still colouring”, says Bayan, “My mom would come pick me up and my best friend’s dad told her ‘your daughter’s going to be an artist.’” Bayan comes from an artistic family full of many architects, explaining that she fell into art naturally and at university she studied architecture. “There were so many different degrees that I wanted to try out”, she said, “My parents said study architecture – it’s considered the hardest art related subject – and then you can just go from there. And that’s exactly what happened. It taught me all the skills that I need.”

Bayan Dahdah

If you follow Bayan online, chances are that you know her because of her digital scrapbook, which combines photographs with illustrations and text.  “I always saved everything with the intention of creating a scrapbook”, explains Bayan, “I have so much stuff that I just keep, I’m quite a sentimental person, now I scan them and unpack what they were.” With an interest in travel and travel photography, she started the scrapbook in 2018, as a way to combat the overwhelming number of travel photographers on Instagram. “It was so saturated”, she explains, “At the same time [as taking photographs] I would take a sketchbook and sketch…combining the images and sketches became my niche.”

A page from Bayan’s digital scrapbook

In addition to her scrapbook, Bayan makes things too, having created an artist’s stool in 2019. “They always say design is problem solving”, she explains, having encountered a problem while studying in London. “I would be sketching a lot”, says Bayan, “I’d go to museums and sit and sketch…I found I’d always be on the floor or my papers would fly everywhere and it was so impractical for an activity that I loved so much. So I thought I’d love to have a stool that allowed me to sit and sketch wherever I want.” The resulting sarj seat is part easel and part stool and became a key feature in an artist retreat she worked on in 2019 with Baraka Destinations, a company in Jordan that promotes slow tourism. Bayan led a trip to Um Qais where the participants sat and sketched in the ancient archaeological site. “It was just paradise,” says Bayan of the experience, and she hopes to host more in the future. And, as well as the retreats, Bayan has been leading visual art workshops for children aged between 11 and 13 with photographer Tania Habjouqa. The workshops provide visual ways for children to express themselves through sketching and photography, and Bayan and Tania are working on formalising their curriculum. 

Bayan’s sarj seat

Most recently, Bayan has joined a platform of photographers, artists and writers called Ruwa, which means storyteller. “We hope to help anyone who’s looking to work on a project, we want to help, offer mentorship, workshops”, explains Bayan, “We all come in with our different skills and we want to help reclaim the narrative and help as regional people instead of going abroad for help.” And as for the future? Bayan is planning to move to Dubai and hoping to take a trip to London. “I’m just trying to be more present, as cliche as that sounds”, she says, “Just to let things play as they come, without worrying too much about what’s coming.”

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer and curator. She is the founder of Gallery Girl - a London-based curatorial platform and website dedicated to modern and contemporary art from across the globe. Her work is primarily focused on supporting emerging female artists from the Middle East and the Caucasus. She has written for Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine, Suitcase and Vice Arabia among other publications. Her exhibitions in London and Armenia have been featured in Vogue Arabia, The Art Newspaper, The Art Gorgeous and numerous other news outlets. Gallery Girl has also spoken in the UK, UAE and Belgium about the contemporary art scene in the MENA region, and is planning further events in London and Amman.

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