Art & Culture

A Trip Back in Time With Sheikha Altaf Al-Sabah, Patron of THE SADU HOUSE

Do you have the desire to go back in time? The time when life functioned at a slower pace, the time when traditions were alive, and the time when nothing mattered more than your own hands? If you do, then let us enter the Sadu House, because that is where the story of the past begins...


Once upon a time, in 1978, the Al-Sadu Project was created with the aim of preserving the traditional art of Bedouin weaving.
As one stands in the middle of the traditional courtyard in the Sadu House, one can sense the richness and diversity of Kuwait's heritage. Though taking steps in the present, the mind has already come face to face with the output and originality of the past.
The layout of the House is such that walking through the exhibition rooms unravels the real story of Kuwaiti weaving.  There is a story behind the name of the Sadu House. A handbook at the center explains that “Al-Sadu is the term used by the Bedouins to refer to the traditional weaving process – the woven items such as the tent and its colorful dividers, storage bags and animal trappings, and the traditional horizontal ground loom.”
The handmade textiles displayed all around the center are strikingly beautiful and mesmerizing; each piece is carefully hand-woven and stitched to perfection.
While the Sadu House today has gained tremendous popularity and it is a must-see for all travelers visiting Kuwait, there is one person that this popularity can be attributed to; she is Sheikha Altaf Al-Sabah, the Patron of the House.  In my interview with her, Sheikha Altaf revealed the benefits of conserving traditions and cultural identities.
Explaining the purpose behind the opening of the Sadu House, Sheikha Altaf said, "Since the invasion, we've had a new vision for the Sadu House, where we bring the nomadic and urban weaving together."  The concept was to create a cultural center where the weaving tradition in Kuwait would be understood and appreciated, and where the traditional weaving moved from the desert into the city.
The different rooms of the House are significant as they exhibit the traditional weaving in the form of a story, so as to create a more vibrant and authentic atmosphere. The aim is for people to take a walk in time and see the story of weaving in its original form; thus creating an aura of an era gone by.
If this cultural center narrates a story, it must also offer a platform for young and old enthusiastic weavers to take a shot at weaving. The Sadu House offers classes and workshops to the public, where enthusiasts can come and try weaving themselves.
In 1991, the Sadu House was transformed into a Weaving Craft Co-operative Society whose shares are owned by the weavers and artisans themselves. The products are exhibited and sold in the Arts and Crafts gift shop by the entrance of the house. The Sadu House offers a wide range of products and modifies them according to the needs of today's society in Kuwait.
Sharing her strong beliefs about traditions, cultures and society, Sheikha Altaf, an anthropologist by profession, said that traditions are always evolving, however, many of them are disappearing rapidly. Referring to certain visible cultural signs, such as material objects and literature, some parts of traditions are more sensitive to change than others and therefore are unable to adapt to change.  For instance, the materials once created in the traditional desert homes are no longer a necessity, but purely a form of enjoyment. The economic framework has changed, so those items, which used to be a function of the everyday life in the desert, are merely luxury items in our modern homes as the social environment has changed.
Sheikha Altaf explains that the best way to conserve traditional arts and crafts is by bringing the traditions into the modern world successfully. The Sadu House brings the traditional weaving from the desert and transforms it into material relevant to the modern society. Keeping traditions alive does not necessarily mean that we must stay in the past; the idea is to bring the 'old' and combine it with the 'new'.
People may be forgetting about traditions and may be focusing too much on the modern world; however, the arts and crafts are becoming more popular in Kuwait, because people are beginning to appreciate the human input – the emotions and sentiments that have been put into each piece of Sadu weaving.  In fact, stories are very important in crafts, because by understanding the human element of the items, we become more appreciative of them.
The essential difference between traditional artists and artisans and those working in the same field today is the patience these artisans had.  Sheikha Altaf believes that today's generation is not catered to having any patience.  "I personally believe that being involved in arts and crafts and having the patience for it can be very therapeutic,” she said.  “Some of us may believe that the world is entirely dependent on technology and machines, while others may believe that the importance of traditional handmade textiles has disappeared, but is that really so?”
Coming to the Sadu House we are reminded that traditions have evolved into an art form, adapting to the new social environment and becoming functional once again. Even though the world has evolved at a very fast pace, and many traditions have been forgotten or destroyed, it does not mean we cannot put some time and effort into what is left.
Sometimes it is a marvel to watch the speed and chaos we humans choose to live in. We are perhaps so mesmerized with the modern world, that we end up having no time to reflect on and preserve our past.  “Understanding our traditions intensifies the sense of worth and the knowledge of who we are, and appreciating our own basic culture trains our positive reception to other cultures and creates a firm base of where we belong,” said Sheikha Altaf.
The Sadu House celebrates an Arts and Crafts Open Day every year. It is a three-day celebration of the traditional arts and crafts of Kuwait whereby local artists and artisans are invited to participate in new works that reflect innovation and traditions. Their aim is to attract young people who enjoy, and are inspired by, traditional handcrafts.
The world is made up of so many different cultures and experiences. The beauty of art is the universal language that it speaks and always brings people together.
Jordan Easter