In 2014, when Ghadeer Abunada – who had just graduated with a BFA in Interior Design from VCUarts Qatar – joined Al Iman Secondary School in Mamoura, as an art and design teacher, little did she know that she would inspire one of the students there to attend the same university where she herself had studied.
Among the 15 and 16-year-olds in her class was Zainab Al-Shibani. As someone who had a natural inclination towards art and design, Zainab was thrilled when Ghadeer introduced a module on interior design as part of the school’s curriculum. The design concepts and the teaching style that the newly-joined teacher brought with her, fascinated Zainab so much that she enquired where Ghadeer had completed her university studies.
Today, seven years on, Zainab graduated from VCUarts Qatar’s Honors program with a BFA in Graphic Design. And, she chose to share her story of a ‘cycle of inspiration’, with the wider community.
“Ghadeer completely flipped my perception of what design studies look like; I realized how purpose-driven it was,” Zainab said. “And though I hadn’t heard of VCUarts Qatar when I was in high school, I knew I had to attend the same university that she did.”
Zainab applied, and was accepted, to VCUarts Qatar. And, in her own words, “stepped into a life-altering experience”.
“At VCUarts Qatar, you’re not just studying art and design; you’re exposed to so much more,” said Zainab. “It made me realize why my high school art teacher taught the way, and had the knowledge, she did.
“I attended courses at Georgetown University in Qatar, and had innumerable interesting conversations with students, faculty and guest speakers from almost every continent on the planet. All these taught me so much, including how to adapt, and make challenges work in my favor. And that’s something that helped when COVID-19 struck.”
During her senior year, keen to see her designs manifest themselves in a more tangible form than the online versions that she shared with her professors during the COVID-19 induced lockdown, Zainab decided to set up a studio at home. She converted an unused majlis into a screen-printing studio. The process – which evolved to be her Honors project – was a success; in a few weeks, she was offering screen-printing services to her fellow classmates, collaborating with a faculty member from the MFA department, and, using screen printing for packaging design.
Yet, even as she wrapped up her BFA thesis, submitted coursework, and prepared to graduate, Zainab felt she had one more thing left to do – meet Ghadeer, whom she hadn’t met since she left school, and share her journey with her.
The meeting took place one evening in the last week of March, in the Al Jasra neighborhood that houses Souq Waqif and Msheireb Downtown Doha. For almost two hours the student and her former high-school teacher updated each other on their respective journeys over the previous six years.
Ghadeer, who currently teaches art in another school, was surprised, and moved, when she learned of the role that she had played in influencing Zainab’s decision to study at VCUarts Qatar. And that her former student had taken the effort to reconnect with her. She listened as Zainab shared specifics about her four years at VCUarts Qatar – how the graphic design faculty inspired her to explore design concepts and applications; how she picked up valuable on-the-job skills while working with Sara Shaaban, VCUarts Qatar’s Art Director in the Communications department; and, the cross-disciplinary nature of the course itself.
Zainab, too, sat captivated, as Ghadeer described how she had developed the interior design module that spiked the former’s interest in design, back in 2014 – how Ghadeer spend almost nine months researching and adapting the course material for high school students, and how she had consulted VCUarts Qatar faculty member Dr. Cherif Amor, for the same.
But, it wasn’t over; Zainab had one more surprise in store for her former teacher.
As the duo walked past the Galleria mall in MDD, and proceeded onward, she pointed in the direction of a building and told Ghadeer, “I designed that.”
It was the brand logo for Studio 7, a design concept store for M7, Qatar Museum’s hub for design exploration and entrepreneurship. As she registered the significance of Zainab’s creation – and exactly how much her former student had evolved as a designer – Ghadeer’s emotions switched between amazement, through joy, and then, to pride.
“Habibti, this is amazing!” said a VCUarts Qatar graduate to a soon-to-be-one, “You always pushed yourself – but to know that something you designed is displayed at M7, and that you thought of reaching out to me as you graduate this year, is humbling.
“I never knew, that when I chose to be a teacher, and pass on what I had learned at VCUarts Qatar to the next generation, it would all come around to this.”
© 1998‐2021 Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar