MFA in Design, Class Marshal
This awakened my awareness on social justice topics, such as discrimination and other social issues.
I’m Sudanese, but my dad came to Qatar when he was very young and I was born and raised in Qatar. I have lived my whole life in Qatar and I only visit Sudan occasionally on the holidays. I do, however, feel that I have a strong attachment to Sudan, and that this is where I’m from and these are the people who look like me and speak like me.
I think I learned a lot about myself through my studies in design, through my BFA and MFA thesis work. I used my studies and chose specific topics that allowed me to learn more about myself and my heritage. My BFA thesis process was happening at the same time as the revolution in Sudan, my thesis was about the revolution. It was political, but it was also giving a voice to the people in Sudan, the human aspect of it. Since the situation was constantly changing, I also had to change my work, my timeline and how I gathered information from people. There were people I worked with who were Sudanese from Qatar, who had gone to study in Sudan and were being arrested. So I was checking on them on a personal level, but at the same time gathering information to pursue an outcome for my thesis.
The anthropology class at VCU also helped me connect more with my heritage. I learned about how anthropology evaluates cultures and religions and why people are the way they are, and how they live together in an active community. I understood that this is something I’m passionate about – design through anthropology knowledge. This awakened my awareness on social justice topics, such as discrimination and other social issues.
It was a vote and to be honest, I was surprised that I got it. In our MFA batch, we’re a group of seven students, and I’m honored to be the Marshall.
My whole experience in the MFA was really fruitful, especially the projects that we worked on together. We felt we created a genuine bond with each other, as well as with the faculty. When we were working, for instance, on the Virga lamps, which you can find in the exhibition space right now, we worked very hard, applying the skills that we had learned in the program, and specifically also what we learned while we were in Spain. We did a lot of woodwork. We were working together as a whole unit and seeing this outcome right now come to life on campus at VCU is something I am proud of. I learned so much from my fellow classmates. And, the fact that we are all from different backgrounds and different ethnicities, added more to the learning experience than just the curriculum.
I’m creating a set of knives and stamps for people to use in the process of creating tribal scarring in Sudan, that is called “Sholoukh”. The symbols have been used traditionally as specific to tribes, or for religious reasons, both in Islamic and Christian traditions, and other social circumstances, for instance in preventing child kidnappings. But, the tradition is slowly vanishing and you only see it in older generations, in our grandmothers and grandfathers. So, I went to Sudan and I conducted research, speaking with University professors, and society members, to learn more. Traditionally, they used the classic razor blade, it was the only tool.
I’m creating a set of knives that you can use to scar yourself. These also include a stamp that you can press onto the skin. Similar to a sleeping mask, it is pressed onto the skin leaving behind the impression, and if you like it, you can take it further and scar the skin with the blade.
I posted a set of collages about this thesis on my Instagram and it went viral in the Sudanese community and I was shocked. I received so much nice feedback from people in the community. I have been posting some images of “sholoukh” as well, and people have been contacting me, saying, “this is my grandpa’s image”. So it was very interesting having this focal point for communication between the Sudanese people in the diaspora communities.
I created a wheelbarrow, one of my favorite projects in my MFA so far. I created the wheelbarrow, which is inspired by the “hammali” that you see at the Souq, who carry people’s stuff and live off of the tips that people give them. These old men are mostly tradesmen from Iran, but they have been living in Qatar for such a long time that they don’t have any place to go back home to.
I grew up in Qatar and we used to go to the Souq a lot with my aunt and my mom to do shopping for Ramadan and other occasions. I was used to seeing the old men who help carry people’s stuff, and I saw that they do not have a place to rest. They would just flip over their wheelbarrow and sit on it, but it’s not comfortable for them, especially in their old age. So I created a seat for them that you can just unlock and open on the wheelbarrow.
Furthermore, learning more from different cultural perspectives is something that I feel that we seem to move away from, especially because a lot of the design that we learn comes from Western designers. But, then you don’t refer back to the people that are from this region. I would like to teach others not to restrict themselves to a specific way of creating something beautiful.
For your younger self
So, I would tell myself, the time here is very precious, so, just use it to the max.