Aisha chose to study at VCUarts Qatar because she always wanted to do something related to art and architecture and, of all the programs available in Qatar, the university’s Interior Design program came the closest. “VCUarts Qatar was a fairly new school and I had heard about it from relatives and friends,” she comments. “My mother was not very encouraging of me studying abroad, so I applied to the school and I got a scholarship from the Ministry of Education (now the Higher Education Institute).”
From the very beginning, Aisha loved the atmosphere at VCUarts Qatar. “I liked the art projects we had to work on during the foundation year, and everybody from the administration to the faculty members seemed very welcoming and friendly,” she says. “I particularly enjoyed the art history classes; it was something new I discovered through VCUarts Qatar and was eye-opening. I had studied history before in high school of course and I loved it, but now it was history and art combined! Both subjects I enjoyed the most.” From that point on, Aisha took almost every art history course that was offered as an elective. Even after graduating in 2005, when Professor Jochen Sokoly offered an introductory course in Islamic Art history the following fall, she just had to come back and enroll for it.
While still a student at VCUarts Qatar, Aisha did an internship with a small interior design firm and, although she says the experience was not bad, it made her realize she needed to rethink her plans for the future. “My interest was already elsewhere, in art and the history of art,” she comments. “And though I enjoyed the design studios and I did very well in them, I enjoyed the reading and writing assignments for the art history and English classes more.” So, after finishing the course with Professor Sokoly, Aisha applied for a job at the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) which was still undergoing fundamental development in preparation for its opening. “I got a job as a researcher there, which allowed me to work closely with the collections. I loved that!” she says. “I had to write reports for cataloguing and short essays on specific topics related to the objects in the museum.”
Aisha was also involved with a smaller exhibition on Mughal jewelry during the Asian Games in 2006. She helped with researching the pieces that were showcased, writing captions and arranging the objects within the exhibition space. She also enjoyed giving brief tours and short talks about the exhibition, especially to children visiting from the different schools in Qatar.
Prior to the opening, Aisha was responsible for two galleries displaying permanent collections related to Islamic calligraphy, another art form she is passionate about. She collaborated with colleagues and researchers to write captions and wall texts for them. “I also wrote reports on Persian paintings focusing on some of the most beautiful Qajar portraits in the collection,” she recalls. “And I worked on some of the Mughal jewelry, of course!”
In 2008, Aisha wrote some articles related to modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art that were published in the Saudi cultural magazine Almajallah Alarabiya. Shortly after the opening of the MIA, Aisha resigned and joined Qatar Foundation. Within a few months, she received a scholarship to do her Master’s (MA) in History of Art at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, for a year. “I came back in October 2010 and since December of that year I have been working at VCUarts Qatar as a teaching assistant in the Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) department,” she says.
“Being a student at VCUarts Qatar was a great learning experience. I learned a lot of skills—from things like doing research to writing academic papers to citing work, to defending your ideas and thinking critically—that might sound very basic, but to me at that time, they were very new and sometimes difficult to achieve,” Aisha comments. She is grateful to many people who have guided her throughout her life and career. They include her parents and the many instructors she had while studying at VCUarts Qatar: Lisa Clayton, whose art history classes she says felt like an exciting tour around the world; Randall Williams, who always encouraged her to read and write, not only in English but in her native language, Arabic; Professor Jochen Sokoly; and Professor Doris Behrans-AbouSeif, her supervisor for her dissertation at SOAS.
“I am always inspired by art and design in every aspect of my life. Ever since I was a child I have loved reading and visiting museums and for that, I am grateful to my family. Both my parents loved the arts; raised us to appreciate art and admire all the beautiful things around us. They have always been very encouraging with the development of my career and supportive of all the decisions I made regarding my studies and work,” she says, citing their support as the reason she applied for a job at VCUarts Qatar. She continues, “And although I was hesitant at first, it felt great to go back to my old school, which is like a second home to me where things are more settled and relaxed. I am enjoying the environment a lot, and working with the students as well. I am trying my best to pass down my enthusiasm and love for the arts and culture to them. And I always hope that I am to them what my teachers mean to me, an ongoing inspiration.”
Aisha believes the art and cultural scene in Doha is still in the process of developing and needs more time to mature, expand and reach out to people. “It is a collaborative movement that should involve schools, museums, public libraries, families and people from the higher authorities in organizations public and private,” she comments. “I do appreciate all the temporary exhibitions being hosted in the museums, the new upcoming art galleries scattered around town, the music concerts taking place now in Qatar, but I wish the people who were responsible for putting these events together would plan and arrange more cultural undertakings that relate to our community and that people from here could relate to.”
As for her own future plans, Aisha hopes to pursue a PhD in art history next year perhaps. “I would love to get a degree in Arabic literature someday and maybe do something related to film studies,” she says. “I would love to continue in my academic career but would also like to start a project that encourages reading and writing and includes events like book discussions, poetry readings, musical evenings and film screenings that would involve young people from the community here and promote arts and culture around the city.”