Independent designer Doa Bugis is cultivating a unique visual direction that is deeply rooted in research. Born in Makkah, Saudi Arabia and now based in Jeddah, her focus is on art direction and design anthropology. Doa’s work is a poetic result of experimenting with traditional and contemporary media exploring grief, loss, immigration, and hybrid identities. She expresses her emotions to her creative work and her subjects are deeply personal and cover everyday challenges.
We talk to Doa about finding inspiration in the East, storytelling and sustaining tradition.
When did you first start practicing as an artist?
I’ve been practicing painting since the end of 2017 as I was going through a transitional phase and needed an outlet and a healing tool. My unofficial inauguration into the painting world was 2018. But I believe it was in the works since childhood. I’ve always played the artist role when I was a kid. I would take a sketchbook outside and draw the flowers in our front yard. I finally built up the confidence to call myself a painter in 2020.
Your works are inspired by Islamic geometry and the miniature painting traditions of Central and South East Asia. What made you develop an interest in these artistic traditions?
I’ve always been interested in traditional Eastern art and that includes China, Japan and South East Asia. Art immigrated and travelled around in this region where each nation added their own local style and flavors. Tracing back the history, the arc of art and architecture development in the East is beyond inspiring. The way they can tell stories whether real or myth and transport the viewer back to that time through illustrations is simply magical.
How did you train to become an artist specializing in these traditional artforms?
I first approached (my dear friend and one of the rarest most generous souls on this planet) Sarah Alabdali to train under her. Back in 2017, I asked her to be her apprentice and learn the basics of Islamic illumination. After that, I studied under Indian miniature painting masters (specifically the Mughal school) which naturally influenced my style. From there, I’ve been practicing and learning different techniques on my own.
Your work has a contemporary aesthetic, how did you create this style?
It was a natural organic process. It took me a while to find my own voice and develop my own style. I don’t believe I’m there yet. I think it’ll always be a work in progress. I’ve always believed in utilizing traditional techniques in telling current and relevant stories. And I think that’s what gives it the contemporary look.
What is your process from imagination to execution?
My process is very intuitive. I definitely start with research. It’s a big part of my process. It doesn’t necessarily mean a visual research. Most of the times I hit the books and try to find inspiration in the written word. I believe language holds so much power and have tremendous impact. From there, I start sketching, sometimes through writing, and then move on to painting. As cliche as it may sound but I allow myself to enjoy the journey and see where it takes me and not fixate on the end result. Sometimes, the work ends up taking a completely different shape than what I had first imagined. Again, it’s a very intuitive and emotional process.
Your works are incredibly detailed, how long does it take for you to create a piece?
It depends on the size and complexity of the work. The more I practice, the less time it takes me. There is an emotional component to it as well. I always try to tap into a human experience to make the artwork more personal. Sometimes, it takes me weeks to finish a small piece. Other times, it takes me a day. Following a natural flow and not forcing it has made me a better artist.
There is a universal visual language to your work, even if you can’t understand or read the calligraphy. What is your creative journey and process?
I believe in the power of story telling through illustrations. It’s a universal language that bypasses other means of communication. Similar to music, figurative art has the ability to reach a large audience even if they don’t share the same language. As mentioned before, I’m a lover of story telling. Immersing myself in different human experiences as well as drawing from my own always inspires me to translate that into a visual representation. The process doesn’t always flow easily. And that’s part of what allows the work to have a life of its own. It tells its own story without me verbally explaining it.
Where do you find inspiration for the colour compositions in your work?
Can you share your favourite work of art you have created so far with us and why is it your favourite?
This is like answering the question: what is your favorite book? There are so many good books out in the world and narrowing it down to one favorite wouldn’t suffice. So, I believe in having favorite parts from each work. Again, I always try to personalize them and build my own relationship with each artwork. But if I were to pick one, I would say Bird Migration is one of my top loved pieces because it was in the works for years and took so many manifestations until it was birthed the way it did. It also sheds the light on a topic that’s extremely close to my heart. It was the catalyst that gave me the confidence to continue this artistic path.
What do you think the future of Islamic art looks like and how do you think we can continue to keep the tradition alive?
I think it’s very promising. There is a growing interest in these traditional crafts. Artists began to develop their own styles under this art form which I believe is sustainable. Using traditional tools and techniques in a contemporary context maintains its relevance to our times and extends its life to the generations to come. Every Islamic Caliphate inherited the artistic practices and added their own contemporary styles which sustained the crafts and kept them alive.
For more information follow Doa on Instagram instagram.com/doabugis
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