An Interview with the Winner of 'New Era Introducing' – Lina Al Amoudi

New Era Introducing was a global competition which invited artists to create their own unique statements using a blank 59FIFTY as their canvas. After what I imagine from seeing some of the entries, was a long and difficult process, a winner was chosen; Lina Al Amoudi.

Flown in from the United Arab Emirates yesterday, I met up with Lina this afternoon at the New Era showroom to ask her a few questions before the New Era Introducing party this evening, which will celebrate and showcase not only her winning hat and design process video, but the other 79 finalists as well. Sat beside her mother and friend, she told me what an incredible whirlwind this has all been for her, coming to London and having her name and creation seen worldwide. Having watched the video of her creative process I thought I understood the design but speaking to her added a whole new level of appreciation.

Before I ask you about the cap, I wanted to know a little about you and your art and what you were up to before this, as I looked at some of your work online and it seems like you do everything from photography to illustration to craft?
I can’t really say I do a specific style of work, I’m just dabbling in a lot of things, enjoying it and learning. As for my previous work, I’ve always loved drawing since I was little but I didn’t know what to do with it until many years on whilst at university when I realised I could use it as a tool to express myself. I fell in love with screen printing and photography, I generally enjoy whatever I throw myself into. I usually come up with a concept in my head and then everything else, photography, drawing, metal working; I just see them as tools to project what I want to say. I don’t know if I specialise in anything specific but the difference with this competition, is that usually I work on a flat plane and people will look at it straight on but with this I had to think how people would walk around it and what they would experience. I had to think a little differently about what story I would tell as they moved around the space in which the hat existed.

What is the art scene like in U.A.E itself?
It’s so very young, it’s really much more commercial than it is here. Most of the graffiti that I see in London, you can tell the artist snuck out, looked around and made sure no-one was looking before they painted. Whereas whatever you see in Dubai has been commissioned work. A friend of mine was commissioned by Ferrari to do a wall, so it’s lost the purpose of it a little bit when there is no creative freedom involved. The laws are really really strict but hopefully it might change, fingers crossed!
As for the scene, it’s growing and people are getting more and more into it and with projects like New Era Introducing it allows people to hear a bit more about local artists in Dubai and we can break out of our little Middle Eastern bubble.

What made you want to enter the competition?
First of all it was a challenge as it was completely out of my element, as well as being related to a whole different culture. I’ve never designed a cap or any item of clothing before, but I thought if I don’t try I’ll never know. So I picked up embroidery and stitching and skills I had never used that much before. Apart from the incentive of helping my career, I was able to be given a voice to express myself on a global platform. I grew up in Saudi Arabia then moved to U.A.E which is an hour and a half away, so I’ve never really had the opportunity to get that much exposure to be able to say what I want to say! It was really nerve wracking though when I looked at all the other artists and their insanely good talent.. but I had to try.

I read that the design for the hat was based on the Queen of Sheba, where did the inspiration and decision to go down that route come from?
Growing up I’ve had a constant search for a female role model or figure who came from the heritage that I came from. In terms of women in Saudi, it’s quite tough because you can’t really go out anywhere without a man, because you can’t drive. There are a lot of things you can’t do as a woman there, and then in contrast you see all these powerful women with voices on the internet and television so I just thought ‘has there been a woman in my heritage who has broken out of the bubble that we live in there?’ The clear answer was her, so I wanted to shed light on her story to hopefully give inspiration to other girls in the place that I came from.

You spoke a little bit before about the process, using laser cutting and sewing. Can you tell me about it in more detail?
The outer structure was divided into four facades and each one celebrated a part of Queen Sheba’s life. The front facade, I chose to talk about her beauty and wisdom as a woman, then the left side represented her marriage to King Solomon. The Hoopoe birds relate to the story, as they were the birds who told King Solomon about this beautiful queen. The back spoke about the prosperity of her great land and the dam she built to protect her people and then the final facade celebrated her as a mother. It is not the exact definition of what we think of as a crown but I’d like to say that it is reminiscent of one.

The inner lining I used red velvet as it has connotations of regality, and the pompom – I don’t know what the correct term is, was used by Roman warriors so that’s another piece of symbolism to show her strength. On the inside of the hat I tried to think about the kind of materials that she would have worn, so I took a trip to the outskirts of Saudi Arabia where you have these little tribes who do these kind of embroideries so I bought a few and collaged them for the inside of the hat, they are beautiful ethnic patterns which I felt belonged to the feel of the overall story. Then I attached some silver coins to the bottom to represent her wealth and power as well as her status as queen and the trade which she controlled. Finally, the area in Yemen in which she reigned is one of the places where you can still get the best Frankincense and a lot of these materials, so something to tie it all together was to make the hat smell like the Frankincense, so you get that as much as you get the experience of walking around it!

Does it still smell of it now?
Haha I don’t know I haven’t smelt it recently!

Obviously you did do everything right as you won, but if you could go back and change anything would you or was it exactly as you wanted it to be?
If I’m given the time I will always go back and change things! One thing that I wanted was to keep the silhouette of the hat, as the facades I created kind of hide the shape of the iconic 59FIFTY. So if I could I would have changed that, as initially instead of the four sides I wanted to create more of a curved side rather than a box shape but I had structure problems trying to put the pieces together.

If you had been a judge and not an entrant who would you have chosen to win? Tough question I know but it’s funny how everyone who sees the finalist hats has their own personal favourite.
There is one hat that stands out, by Laura Apsit Livens from the UK. It’s really really beautifully sewn together, and the craftsmanship is amazing. It ties in so well to the feel of the brand as they are known to be baseball caps.

At this point Lina’s Mother chimed in – ‘ She likes anything that’s hand made, I can tell from her answers. My favourite is the typewriter!’
So is mine!

You’ve won the bursary to kick start your career, what will you be using it towards?
Well the past few years I’ve been working really hard to save up for my Masters, so half of the bursary will help me to put myself through that. Then the other half will go towards a design studio that my brothers and I are setting up which will hopefully work as a platform for designers in my area!

To see the rest of the finalist’s entries head to the New Era Introducing website .