bawa interview 8/8/23

Dalia in Conversation with Elina Sairenan


"I draw and that is the one thing I absolutely want to continue for the rest of my life."

ES: Lovely to meet you Dalia! Could you begin this interview by introducing yourself?

D: I am Dalia, originally from Kuwait but I have spent the last five years in New York where I was studying Interior Design at Parsons School of Design. I draw and that is the one thing I absolutely want to continue for the rest of my life. Drawing has shaped how I live, how I seek out different places so I can make observations to draw later. My undergraduate education in design taught me how to use drawing to think and to iterate and advance my thoughts. Later this year, I will continue my studies in Architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence in order to continue to draw but at a much larger scale and setting.

ES: Could you tell me more about your background and childhood in Kuwait?

D: Kuwait is a very unique place. The country is small in size and it’s economy is almost exclusively oriented around petrol so there aren’t many avenues for entertainment. As teenagers, we had to be creative in order to have fun—so we ended up exploring Kuwait through different means. You see, Kuwait—especially for citizens—resembles a suburb; and that comes with the implications of a suburban life, like having to drive everywhere. I think we pushed through the unwalkable-ity. Many of my friends became engaged with photography, having found their passions very young. I would always tag along and explore the city with them, walking through and across the city as much as we could. That was interesting, but I recognized I had not yet figured out my own passion. I knew I had an interest towards these places—but I was not sure what would become my medium. Eventually, I started to draw my observations from memory. Later, when I applied to universities, I had to prepare a portfolio—marking the moment when I took drawing more seriously.

ES: Around what age did you start to draw?

D: I’ve drawn forever but I started to take drawing more seriously, to distinguish this moment from my childhood, happened at around 16 or 17. That’s when I got my first sketchbook—and I’ve carried a sketchbook ever since.

Necks in Orbit - Bawa

on her time at parsons school of design

"Before Parsons, I had not understood how much more work I can put into my drawings and how much further I can take them."

ES: As you mentioned, you studied Interior Design at Parsons. Why did you decide to study in the US and chose this major?

D: Studying in the US was an obvious choice as I had gone to American schools for my entire life. I was very familiar with the American system, accustomed to the culture and commanded the language. At first I applied for Fine Arts, but had to switch to Interior Design as this was the closest subject to the arts and eligible for a scholarship from my country. At first, my subject choice seemed random, but after I entered the program I realized I could apply an arts perspective to my studies.

ES: During your time at Parsons, did you do any internships or other type of work placements?

D: Yes I did although the pandemic slightly altered the course of my plans. First I was at an upholstery studio which was really interesting. Later, I became a gallery attendant at the Swiss Institute and that carried on for a year. During my time as a gallery attendant I created a lot of sketches—we were allowed to carry a sketchbook. Being continuously surrounded by a lot of art was great. Later, I became an intern at the Swiss Institute and I got to see the insides of an art not-for-profit, how an institution operates from an arts admin point of view.

ES: What were the highlights of your time at Parsons?

D: Definitely my studio! And the inspiring professors who taught me to be more rigorous. Before Parsons, I had not understood how much more work I can put into my drawings and how much further I can take them. Generally, the school made me more passionate about my drawing practice and also gave me the skills to exercise that passion.

ES: In autumn, you will begin a Master’s program in Architecture. Could you talk a little bit more about your decision to pursue a degree in this field?

D: I chose architecture because I really want to learn new things. While it is true that I wanted my education to focus on fine arts, I think the learning opportunities in an architecture program are just really vast. I am also eager to develop a more precise vocabulary to verbalise my observations of built environments in interior, architectural and urban scales. I think this type of learning would help me to better understand my observations and consequently help me to draw better. Also, I am particularly interested in learning more about building materials and construction logic, joining materials and composing them. In a way, I already engage in a similar negotiation with my drawing mediums—you know, like putting pastel over graphite and a pencil over graphite.

on her early memories of art

"I drew a plane and I remember how challenging it was to comprehend the right perspective."

ES: Do you have any early memories from your built-in environments or urban landscape as a child? Something that struck with you specifically?

D: I have a very early memory of a staircase of my elementary school facing the sun. The windows were long enough to let in a lot of light. For some reason this is an effective early memory in my mind.

ES: Do you have any early memories of drawing? 

D: Yes, from kindergarten when I was three years old. I drew a plane and I remember how challenging it was to comprehend the right perspective. Generally, I think I have some problems with perspective and that’s why my drawings look the way they do. Just not being able to know the right angle for lines and not always being able to distinguish between right and left—this affects the way I draw.

ES: What is it about drawing that gets you so excited?

D: It is immediate. To me, drawing is a way of releasing energy.

ES: This notion and quality of drawing being immediate and instantaneous is interesting. Could you please elaborate more?

D: My starting point is memory, so this really requires a quick process. That’s why I keep a sketchbook and a pen with me almost at all times. In this way, if something is distinct, I will be able to ensure I won’t forget it and I can do it immediately. In this sense, my drawings have a diary vibe and they carry a certain notebook feeling. Also, many of my sketches have writing on them. There, I am describing my life, experiences and observations in different forms.

Sight of Doha from Sulaibikhat - Bawa

On her themes and inspirations

"During my lifetime, Kuwait has been looking more or less the same. Now, I have a lot to say about that."

ES: Let’s talk about the themes in your work. Right now, you are working with Kuwaiti architecture, infrastructure and urban planning—could you tell me more?

D: Currently, I am, for example, discussing my paths from one point to another. Generally, I am interested in the design choices behind our existing infrastructure. Kuwait is a very distinctive looking place for a number of reasons. There are the modernist buildings from the 1980s and then new extravagant constructions. I’m trying to refrain from expressing an opinion about them aesthetically because the questions of taste are not as interesting to me. Rather, I think I am describing a particular sentiment among Kuwaiti youth. For better or for worse, our region is transforming, yet my country is pretty stagnant. During my lifetime, Kuwait has been looking more or less the same. Now, I have a lot to say about that.

ES: Considering your great interest in architecture, urban planning and infrastructure, were there any artists, writers or scholars discussing these same topics who have influenced your work?

D: Farah Al-Nakib’s Kuwait Transformed (2016). Generally, my interest towards these topics grew after I moved out of Kuwait. At the Swiss Institute, Alia Farid’s exhibition The Space Between Classrooms (2021) was significant, too. Of course, I love the GCC art collective's work.

ES: After the summer of 2018, you moved to New York and I think the changes thereafter are visible in your work as the autumn also marked the beginning of your studies at Parsons.

D: Definitely, there were many changes after the summer on different scales. At the level of mediums, I discovered micron pens which to me felt like a pretty American design school thing. During my foundation year, so the academic year of 2018-2019, there was variety in my work generally speaking. I was experimenting with different mediums but also thematically.

ES: Right, so during the autumn of 2019 you entered the first year of your design education?

D: Yes. I had to focus more on drawing for design assignments but also still was introduced to different mediums like animation.

ES: Considering your practice, do you find that there is a difference between portraying people as opposed to depicting landscapes?

D: I think the two are similar. Procedurally there’s no difference between the way I scribble down people or buildings. I manipulate their perspective in similar ways, like distorting their proportions. In my drawings of humans, you often see some body parts larger than others, for example. Lately, I also try to include the elements of the sensuality present in the drawings of people into my drawings of landscapes.  

ES: Let’s return to the topic of perspective which we have touched upon earlier during this interview. But still, I have to ask you, where does your interest towards perspective come from? I think especially in the works from 2023, your interest towards perspective is quite visible. It is almost like you are approaching it as a problem you are trying to solve.

D: Yes, that’s a big question. I don’t think I am patient enough for realism or for a realistic perspective. At the same time, I want to remember so many of my observations in detail and portray them simultaneously. This inherent need to combine the two results in the distorted perspective. It is almost an obsession of wanting to draw ‘everything’ and putting it all together. I think I just want to talk about my life more comprehensively than speak about singular topics.

Untitled - Bawa

on her future

"I am excited to see how my work evolves as I am moving to a much quieter place than New York."

ES: What are you working on at the moment?

D: Sketches! Right now I am giving my space time as I know a busy and demanding autumn awaits. Back in Kuwait for the summer, I also need time to realise my surroundings and adapt. Something that I am exploring right now is to draw in a more painterly way.

ES: What does that mean? 

D: In the beginning you said something like ‘a painter can sometimes resolve their mistakes easier than a drawer’ so I am trying to do that but with pencil. In practice, that means using light layers of pencil that I can go over and over later on. The end result is still a drawing and not a painting, obviously.

ES: Not everyone is a fan of this question, so please excuse me in advance—what kind of future plans do you have?

D: It would be amazing to make public art in the future. Of course, I want to continue drawing. In the nearer future, I am excited to see how my work evolves as I am moving to a much quieter place than New York. I also want to challenge myself and get closer to expressing what I want to with drawing. Generally, I have this need to just work and be super focused for the upcoming years.

ES: If anyone wanted to get to know you better, which places should they go to in New York or in Kuwait? With regards to your practice, what physical and geographical locations have been influential for you?

D: The Williamsburg Bridge in New York. The sense of rhythm the bridge creates with shadows, light and the slope of the bridge is really unique. In Kuwait, walk the spiral at the Green Island. It is an artificial island from 1988. In the centre of the island there is a cylinder structure that spirals upwards, a bit like the Guggenheim in New York.