Maryam AlSuwaidi Takes Cues from Arabic Culture for her Designs

Maryam Faraj AlSuwaidi, who comes with strong artistic ties in Qatar, is a VCUarts Qatar alumna who in collaboration with design company FROMM. takes inspiration from the desert life.

Maryam Faraj AlSuwaidi is the daughter of Qatar’s most known local artist Faraj Daham whose work is grounded in the present while being responsive to the world around.  Her brother Mohammed AlSuwaidi, an architect pursuing higher studies has also made a mark in the art world with his multi-media installations. Guided and inspired by these prolific figures in her life, Maryam AlSuwaidi has herself made an impact in the art and design space in Qatar and now has made in internationally with her furniture designs displayed at Milan Design Week 2022.

Maryam AlSuwaidi, who completed her BFA in Interior Design from Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar), a Qatar Foundation (QF) partner university, developed  the designs in collaboration with FROMM., a newly launched design company situated in M7.

AlSuwaidi is a multi-media designer who has exhibited at various events and venues. Some of her recent collaborations include designing installations for the football world cup tournament, and participating in the Majaz exhibition at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art.

In this conversation, AlSuwaidi, who currently works as an Interior Designer at Qatar National Bank, talks about her collaboration with FROMM., her inspiration behind the furniture designs and what participating at an internationally renowned design fair means to her.

How did your collaboration with FROMM. come about?

MARYAM: In the September of 2021, FROMM. announced a design competition for local designers. I hadn’t heard of FROMM. until then as they were yet to have their official opening. The brief was to create contemporary minimalist designs that drew inspiration from Qatari culture yet also appealed to an international audience. I submitted my designs and was delighted when I got a call from FROMM. saying that along with Shua’a Ali, another local designer, I was selected to design the furniture and accessories range which they called the Shurouq Collection. ‘Shurouq’, by the way, means ‘dawn’ in Arabic.

What was the theme for the Shurouq collection?

MARYAM: FROMM.’s approach to design aims to create products that are contemporary yet have roots in heritage. Hence, we wanted the Shurouq Collection to be inspired by Qatari customs, narratives, and history. We made sure it incorporates traditional elements of Qatari architecture and draws inspiration from the local environment. The result is this range that, on the one hand, retains Qatari traditions, yet is modern enough to stand out in a global marketplace, and blend in with any décor.

Where did you look for inspiration?

MARYAM: The desert is part of our local culture. It’s a feature that has always been and will always be part of our distinct identity. I see the desert and sand dunes as timeless pieces of God’s making. They reflect the ages that have gone by and are yet to come. They’re minimalist, yet when observed closely they’re complex and dynamic in their movements. This makes one appreciate the details in a desert, as much as its expansive whole. So, when I wanted a beautiful inspiration that captures the soul of Qatar and the region, I turned to the desert. The desert became the polestar that guided my creativity.

To initiate the collection’s design, understanding the character of the primary visual elements was a must. This included analysing geographic features such as shapes and movements of the desert. I drew inspiration from the undulating waves and curves of sand dunes for the main features of the Shurouq Collection.

Can you run us through the unique features of the design, and the materials used?

MARYAM: I collaborated with FROMM. on three pieces for the Shurouq collection: the ‘Haima’ armchair, the ‘Haima’ pouffe and the ‘Baida’ sofa.

Keeping in line with FROMM.’s objectives for sustainability, originality and functionality, the Collection’s theme focused on all three. It was a challenge to streamline aspects of Qatar’s complex multifaceted culture into a contemporary yet minimalistic design. However, we succeeded in designing and producing an entire collection that is not only aesthetically pleasing but is also multifunctional and a nod to our heritage.

From a sustainability point of view, FROMM. was keen that the materials used in the Shurouq Collection each showcase a unique property. While my designs in the collection use custom plywood in brown and yellow tones that mimic the desert, they’re also formaldehyde-free. The sofas and pouffe utilise an expanded polyurethane padding that is durable, resistant, and are further protected and covered by a layer of fibre padding made from recycled plastic bottles.

From a cultural perspective, FROMM.’s idea to use patterned fabric inspired by local pigeon towers as a second option to the off-white bouclé (yarn with a looped or curled ply, or fabric woven from this yarn) is worth a mention for the way it encapsulates the cultural identity of the region.

Would you like to share your experiences with the production process?

MARYAM: The manner in which FROMM. encouraged me and supported me every step of the way was what made the difference to the final outcome. I collaborated with their international team to find the best possible supplier to produce our collection. Working with Matteo Squaiella, FROMM.’s Design Manager, we collaborated with Italian suppliers that provided resources and processes that were not just of the best possible quality but were also in line with global design standards and FROMM.’s sustainability agenda.

Personally, the hands-on experience in understanding and incorporating various aspects of design and production, working with internationally renowned designers and master craftsmen has been incredibly valuable and satisfying. I even got to visit the suppliers personally in Italy, to gain an understanding of their processes and collaborations in greater detail.

Once production was complete it was thrilling because it was an international launch! We had the pieces displayed in FROMM.’s Milan lab and showroom during Milan Design Week 2022. Following that successful unveiling, it was shipped to Qatar in time for FROMM.’s official launch in the M7 building, in late October.

Looking back, what does your collaboration with FROMM. and your participation at Milan Design Week, mean to you?

MARYAM: I have a BFA from VCUarts Qatar, a Master’s in Urban Planning and Design from Qatar University (QU). I’m currently working on my Ph.D., also at QU. Despite such exposure to creative processes, participating in Milan Design Week was a milestone in my journey as a designer. It made me realize the tremendous potential and opportunities that the world of creativity and design has to offer. It was incredible to see the designs on display at every corner of Milan.

Without a doubt, the highlight of the trip was being able to see and hear the overwhelmingly positive responses and feedback when we unveiled the Shurouq Collection at one of the world’s largest design showcases. Unforgettable.

Being on this journey with FROMM. was a turning point in my creative life. As a visual artist trained at VCUarts Qatar, I’ve been taught to articulate my ideas through my work. However, it was my collaboration with FROMM. – the inspiration, encouragement, and ideas the team gave me – that taught me how to turn my creative visions into everyday objects that are more than just functional furniture; they also capture the artistic beauty of our heritage and traditions.

All Images and content Courtesy @VCUQ

Photographer @ravivcohen