In Focus: Nayla Al-Mulla
By Anna Nigmatulina
Visit the Arabic version here
How did you cope with the pandemic? Most people were taken by surprise at the speed and deadly force with which COVID circumvented our world starting in 2020. But it wasn’t just the threat of the virus that knocked us off our feet, it was the quarantines, and the lockdowns and the disruption of everyday social interactions that took a toll on our collective well-being. Nayla Al-Mulla, fashion brand consultant, educator and artist, passed the time with a needle and thread and piece of fabric. In the isolation of quarantine, the artist stitched together a quilted diary of introspection that reflected her perception of the events surrounding the pandemic, which came to symbolize a universal human experience in her exhibition piece, I Had Other Plans.
“I imagined it would be smaller, not thinking how long it would last,” remembers Al-Mulla, smiling at the collective naivete of the early days of the pandemic. But, as the reality set in, the project became an obsession, “a do or die situation” to which she dedicated hours, meticulously working on the embroidery, first by hand, then with the aid of a machine, to create one square panel with a motif to represent each passing day. Now, the three-and-a-half meter-long quilt is an all enveloping, controversial, intimate and unabashedly candid commentary on life under Covid that summarized the pandemic experience for Al-Mulla in one way or another.
The project evolved as the pandemic was evolving. Initially it was more on the comical side – poking fun at the ridiculous situation. “I was trying to humanize it , find lightness in a heavy state of being,” says the artist. But it evolved into a more serious commentary surrounding the circumstances and global political and social discourse. Was this pandemic fabricated? Was this virus the Earth’s way of “cleansing” itself?. “Are we discussing climate change, pollution, and global warming enough? How are we still witnessing unjust healthcare and failing social systems, with people losing jobs and livelihoods?” she wondered.
While her quilt reflected these inner thoughts, it was never her intention to present them to public scrutiny. “It was a personal project, a diary not meant for anyone to see,” confesses the artist. The work was just a way for her to make sense of a world shaped by Covid, and to filter and soothe an internal dialogue. Perhaps, it is exactly this vulnerability and depth of the work that leads so many in her audience to identify so strongly with the square panels of the quilt that masterfully frame her ideas. This quilt, stitched together over hundreds of days is not merely a collection of squares, which fittingly resemble an Instagram page. It has taken on a broader symbolism for the artist herself.
“There’s something about stitching thoughts that is solidifying and healing all at once. And then there is the symbolism of the quilt; a personal object, a source of connection, warmth and protection.”
Nayla studied Fashion Design at VCUQ and went on to specialize in Pattern-Making and Garment Production, coupled with a master’s in Design Research from Central Saint Martins and London College of fashion. Her past experience includes working on the military uniform project at the Center For Research in Design, as a garment technician at Qatar’s first luxury brand Qela, and Assistant Professor at VCUQ. Currently, Nayla works as a consultant to start-up brands meeting them where they are on their journey from ideation and financial planning to product development and production. In 2010 Nayla did her first Art Residency at the Fire Station followed by a second in 2021.