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Bayan Dahdah: Scrapbooking and the traveling Sarj

In an age where creativity transcends mediums effortlessly, Jordanian-Palestinian designer Bayan Dahdah has defined her own way of storytelling and creating art. 

“I remember coloring books all the time. When everyone used to leave the nursery, I’d be sat at the table still coloring,” Bayan says. “My best friend’s dad told my mom ‘your daughter is going to be an artist.’”

Despite her first love being drawing, she grew up in Doha with a film camera in her hand. “We have a very active film institute in Doha…but the more I got involved in it, the more I realized it’s not a career path that I want. I did a short film, so I got it out of my system,” says Bayan. 

She also tried out travel photography before eventually combining her diverse talents into a digital scrapbook.

A little scroll through Bayan’s Instagram feed reveals her scrapbook of self-reflections, sentiments and memories – weaved into narrative-driven triptychs layered with photography, sketching and writing.

Following in the footsteps of her family of architects, she moved to the UK in 2011 to pursue a BA in Architecture, where she would visit museums and sketch for hours, an activity that eventually inspired her passion project. 

“Just me, sitting on the floor of a museum, with a cool sculpture or something in front of me and just sketching…it’s what brings me happiness,” says Bayan. As she sat on random pavements and floors to sketch, she was inspired to create a compact artist stool that she easily could take with her anywhere. 

Named Sarj, meaning ‘saddle’ in Arabic, and inspired by the nomadic nature of Arabs, the artist stool was finally brought to life in Jordan where Bayan briefly escaped to for some soul searching in 2019.

“Jordan is a much craftier city.  There’s less money but it’s more organic in terms of art and design, so I thought it would be a good idea to go back to my roots and see what craftsmen are doing there,” she says. 

When she first arrived, she was in a really bad place and was looking to make a change. “For the first six months, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t have any friends there, I just had family, no one my age. We have a farmhouse there so I would go from the house to the farm and back, I was miserable,” she recalls. 

However, with a commitment made to Amman Design Week 2019, she had to drag herself out of her funk and keep her promises. “I had already made a commitment to make this chair and to give this workshop so I knew I had that coming up, and then as the deadline approached, I woke up one day like ‘oh my god, I have to do this!’” 

With the help of her family carpenter, they came up with the design, refined it with her family of architects, and made 10 chairs. 

Through Sarj, Bayan is actualizing her dream of traveling. 

“I wanted something that was compact enough, that I can take with me anywhere and sit and start sketching, and the idea evolved into…maybe this could be a traveling workshop I lead with a group of people,” she says.

After leading several successful workshops and art retreats in Jordan, where she would walk around the old cities of Amman with a small group of people, she noted some improvements to be made to the chair. Ideally, it would be compact and light enough for her to stuff in a suitcase and travel. 

With her digital scrapbook as her portfolio, she is now a highly sought-after freelance graphic designer with clients around the world. 

She is often in her own head, as she says, popping out into the world from time to time, armed with new realizations and ready to create. The COVID-19 pandemic has made her reflect on the hustle culture we are all prone to. 

“I’ve been so career-focused all my life, figuring myself out, figuring my career out, and after this…I want to focus on fun, to release this pressure I have on myself to produce or get somewhere,” she says. 

“I want to just learn to have fun for the sake of having fun, now that I’ve reached a point where I’m happy with my work.”

Follow Bayan on Instagram: @bayandahdah