On Monday, December 4, Al Sadu Society held an exhibition and presentation titled ‘Sadu in Contemporary Vision’ by Dr Zainab Al Ibrahim at Sadu House. Dr Al Ibrahim has made a mark as the first Kuwaiti to pursue doctorate studies in the philosophy of textile art. She has had numerous scientific researches related to Kuwaiti art heritage published as well as individual and collective art exhibitions organized in Kuwait and abroad. Her work in textile has been deeply impacted by Sadu and its motifs which has led her to embrace the preservation and continuation of Sadu as her calling. Dr Al Ibrahim dedicates her time to revitalizing traditional handmade textiles while using elements of modern attire.
On Monday evening, Dr Zainab al Ibrahim a scholar cum artist sought to explain her research on the history and culture of sadu along with her vision for the craft. Sadu has a fascinating story integral to the desert culture of Kuwait. Using simple tools, techniques and designs, Bedouin women manufactured their families’ shelter, rugs, containers, cushions and clothing as textiles which were simple, and pure in structure and composition, yet rich and colourful in tradition and culture. Despite the rich story that sadu tells, the craft faces an uncertain future. Technological innovation and changing ways of life have led to a fall in demand for traditional handicrafts. The ‘shajarah’ weaving is no longer needed.There are modern interpretations for commercial items such as floor coverings, carpets, rugs, cushion covers and other things, but there is real concern about the preservation of knowledge and understanding of the patterns and symbols in weaving because there are few women left who know the technique and without demand, it may die. It is in this context that Dr Zainab Al Ibrahim’s work gains importance.
Dr Al Ibrahim’s interest in Sadu began when as a young college going student she noticed a lack of interest among her contemporaries in things that are traditional. “ I noticed that people of my age had little knowledge of Sadu. In fact, they regarded Sadu as ‘Bedouin’, and felt it is something to do with Kuwait’s past without any contemporary relevance.” She started probing this attitudinal problem and realized that young Kuwaitis thought it ‘shameful’ to use or wear something that is local and traditional, and this accounted for their avoidance of Sadu.
Her desire to study further this disappearing craft led her to specialize in textile printing. “ I started painting at the age of five. I love to paint, and I painted anything that caught my fancy. My father noted my interest and advised me to try and combine my interest in art with a good academic degree. I agreed. I majored in textile printing from Helwan University in Cairo where I studied handblock, batik and silkscreen. While working on my degree, I decided to make sadu on silkscreen.” Dr Al Ibrahim aimed to reinterpret the sadu patterns and give them a contemporary twist. “ I wanted to preserve sadu patterns by using them differently but without any change,” she explains. Technology has its advantages, she explains. “Today when I print sadu patterns I can do it in an hour, but in the past, it took months to make a small piece.”
The exhibits which were on display at Sadu House were undoubtedly sadu but in unexpected colours, techniques and on a different fabric. “I am an artist, not a fashion designer. I interpret motifs through my artistic vision. I chose to study textile printing, a subject that is not taught in Kuwait. In fact, now that I am back in Kuwait, I am finding it difficult to get hold of colours I may need for work. It is not easy to paint on textile because you may want to wear it or wash it after wear, so one has to be careful because if you don’t get it right, your work may be in the danger of being washed away. There are colours available for textile painting in Kuwait, but they are meant for hobby or small projects. They are not suitable for the kind of serious work I do.”
Dr Zainab Al Ibrahim’s research topic for doctorate study was ‘Formulations Printing Inspired of Dimensional Symbolic and Expressive to Kuwaiti Postage Stamps’, and it culminated in a book and works of art that brought together sadu and the art of postage stamps. “ What drew me to the theme was the fact that both sadu and postage stamps have lost their relevance because of technological changes. Both are old, and both have gone out of use. The postage stamps were beautiful and showed aspects of Bedouin life.” Dr Al Ibrahim’s research and creative work were on display at Sadu House. “ This exhibition showcases my initial work as an artist where I was still learning and coming to terms with the subject.”
Dr Zainab Al Ibrahim is sceptical about the future of Sadu. “ It is because young people are not interested. You cant force people to visit Sadu House and learn the craft.” She hopes that the study of the craft will enter school and college curriculums and give students an opportunity to know more about their heritage. “ This will help its preservation and continuation.”
Sheikha Altaf Al Sabah, patron of Sadu House and KTAA has always voiced her concerns about the sustained continuity and relevance of sadu in the future. “Traditional arts need to be made relevant to survive,” Sheikha Altaf had said in an earlier interview. It is commendable of Dr Zainab Al Ibrahim to do her bit for the survival of Sadu in Kuwait.
By Chaitali B. Roy – Special to the Arab Times