Getting to know Saliah Bryan: British Middle Eastern Artist and Designer behind ‘The Pillow Talk Cause’

Saliah Bryan talks about her experiences of growing up in Eastern and Western cultures and how they have influenced her work and discusses being part of a new creative community.

Exhibition ‘Transition’ explores issues around displacement and the merging between Eastern and Western cultures.  The exhibition features the work of forty emerging Middle Eastern artists.  Through the diverse range of work on display we can learn of the individual journeys of these artists.  By living or being based in more than one country you are exposed to multiple cultures and this has inevitably influenced their work and shaped their own cultural identities.


A week into the ‘Transition’ exhibition at the Menier Gallery in London, artist Saliah Bryan comes by the gallery and discusses with me the challenges of growing up in more than one country, being a ‘third culture individual’ and what it means to be an Arab artist based in the UK.  Half Lebanese, born and brought up in Kuwait, Bryan moved to the UK at seven years old.  We talk about the advantages and disadvantages of being an Arab in present day Western society.  As a child, Bryan was at the receiving end of bullying and felt she was not fully accepted into a new culture, due to differences such as religion, accent and language.  Bryan explains how being half Middle Eastern in the present-day West, means that you are at risk of being negatively branded and treated with prejudice.  However, Bryan emphasizes there are advantages of being part of more than one culture.  From spending an afternoon with her I have learned that Bryan is proud to be half Arab and despite the challenges she has faced, she has a great connection with her Arab side and a strong, established cultural identity.


Being part of this group exhibition has allowed Middle Eastern artists, including Saliah Bryan, to come together as a creative community to which they all belong.  Bryan tells me that she hasn’t been able to submerge herself into an Arab community or visit the Middle East as much as she would like and that this exhibition has given her the opportunity to meet other young Arab creatives who are just as open minded as her, due to their own life experiences.  Bryan firmly believes that art is used to express yourself and that everyone has that right of expression.


With ‘Pillow Talk’ Saliah Bryan intends for the cushions to represent freedom from the limits of traditional Arabic art.  Bryan has steered clear of using the muted colours found in traditional Arabesque design, instead she has used bright and vibrant colours.  She has created bold, clean-cut patterns directly influenced by Arabic letters, numbers, diacritics, as well as short vowel marks and each cushion consists of its own meaning which you can find more about through the website below.  All the designs for these cushions have a modern, experimental aspect and have an energetic, fun and playful quality which reflects the artist’s influences from her childhood memories in Kuwait.

Pillow talk seeks to gather artists from across the world to design a cushion specifically intended  to reflect a cause it cares about. Cushions are often the centre piece of a room, and should be the starting point of conversation.

A percentage of proceeds from the sale of the cushions and keyrings go to the registered charity Human Care Syria.  With this series of cushions, the artist seeks to support this cause and raise awareness for the refugee children who have had their childhood taken away.

Saliah Bryan believes that there is not enough contemporary art shown in museums and galleries in certain Arab states.  She tells me how there are some incredible collections of art on display  at the Tareq Rajab Museum in Kuwait but overall there is much more traditional Arabic Art than modern art.  Cultural boundaries and the laws set in place in countries such as Saudi Arabia, has led to the general lack of performance art, installations and digital art being shown in the Middle East.  Bryan would like to see more modern art to be shown in some of the GCC countries such as Kuwait.

‘Transition’ has provided a platform for emerging Middle Eastern artists to have their work showcased in an international city.  The exposure of their work here in London means that these contemporary artists can reach a wider audience in the West and equally people from the West can learn of these artists.  The exhibition represents a unity among the GCC countries through art and yet is additionally an inclusive exhibition, open to people from all cultures, backgrounds and ages.

Saliah Bryan wants to take the project ‘The Pillow Talk Cause’ further by involving many more artists, illustrators and designers to come up with their own designs and support other notable causes.  Bryan wants to continue with small-scale production and limited-edition series’ in further collections.  The concept behind Pillow Talk has so much scope for where it can go in the future and I am so excited to see what will happen with it next.

View Saliah Bryan’s work ‘Pillow Talk’ in the group exhibition ‘Transition’ on at the Menier Gallery, London until 2nd September 2017.  To get involved or purchase any of the cushions from the collection follow @pillowtalkcause on Instagram and head over to

Laura Johnson Marchisella

Laura is from London and currently studying for a BA (Hons) in Fine Art.  You can find her on Instagram at @laurajohnsonmarchisellaart