Poignant Narratives at the Design School Final Exhibition

From designs that bring immediate attention to issues like domestic abuse, to design solutions that look into ablution before prayers to find optimal water consumption as prescribed by the Prophet Mohammed, to wellness products that show a deep sense of awareness of age-old traditions, the MFA Design students of Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar) reveal in the new generation of designers a deeply-rooted value system that is indeed a hope for the tomorrows. By Sindhu Nair

MFA Design exhibition Faheem Khan; Less Water, More Holy: Tools for Sustainable Ablution. Image Courtesy: VCUarts Qatar.

This is the first year after the Covid lockdowns that the works of the graduating cohort of students of Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar), a Qatar Foundation (QF) partner university has opened to public and hence a special occasion for  graduates and their families as there is no greater joy than seeing works of passion on display on the college grounds, a rite of passage that heralds the graduation ceremony.

The BFA + MFA Exhibition 2022 is open to the public from May 9 to May 17, at VCUarts Qatar.

The eight individual artifacts by Faheem Khan —each one designed to analyze and illustrate the process of wudu, showing how little water is needed for each step of the process.

The buzz and excitement on the ground floor of VCUarts Qatar’s building within Education City, where the exhibition is put up, is palpable and some of the works are instant crowd pullers. On closer scrutiny the principles that guided some of the best projects on display are cause for pride, for both the Professors who have steered them and the families who have raised them. For here are a new set of designers entering the world; a group who are more vigilant, more conscious, more rooted in societal needs, more sustainable in their actions, and thus finally better design professionals due to all these values imbibed.

Design for inclusivity, homelessness, domestic conflict, cultural conservation, third culture kids, mental well-being, nationality and identity, social hierarchies, and sustainable modular furniture, are some of the themes that have been examined by this year’s cohort of graduates.

The show is a collective presentation of the unique, and often convention-breaking, work of 57 graduates from VCUarts Qatar’s Class of 2022. These include 52 students from the University’s undergraduate graphic design, interior design, painting and printmaking, and fashion design programs, and five students from the University’s postgraduate program in design.

“This year, we’re thrilled to present the work of our graduating Class of 2022 to you, as an in-person exhibition,” said Amir Berbić, Dean of VCUarts Qatar. “This physical show, along with an online presence, allows greater reach, offering industry and media professionals a chance to view and appreciate the talent and creativity at VCUarts Qatar. The projects on display show how this graduating group – despite spending almost two years fluctuating between online, hybrid and on-campus studies – didn’t let any of these challenges distract them from exploring current issues that affect humanity across the globe, or from elevating the ordinary and the everyday into extraordinary, thought-provoking installations.”

SCALE picks a few designs that interested us:


Designer: Anurag Wallace

A stunning crimson-coloured lehenga-adorned-veiled wedding piece attracts attention at the MFA Design pavilion. The story behind this conceptual bride is as arresting as the lehenga on display and Anurag Wallace, who was working with Indian Designer Anita Dhongre before he pursued his Masters, explains the process behind this design. The design is a result of interviews and interactions with women who have been victims of domestic abuse.

“The wedding dress is a symbol of purity in traditional Indian weddings, but in the case of marriages that turn abusive, it can become a symbol of oppression and patriarchy. During the research phase of this investigation, women once stuck in abusive marriages—treated as objects—talked about the objects that made them feel trapped, and explained how these everyday objects became silent witnesses to violence. These symbolic objects are embroidered into the very fabric of a hand-stitched wedding dress and exhibited in public, to start a conversation, raise awareness and support women—to serve as a call for societal change,” says Wallace.

From wedding rings, to clocks, to perfumes and even medicine bottles that their husbands used, become motifs embroidered on the wedding dress, becoming reminders for the women of their tormented life. These everyday objects find a place in the beautiful wedding gown spread across the black room in the VCUArts gallery as Wallace tries to put the focus on matters that get swept under the carpet, making the issue centre stage that needs to be addressed immediately and in haste. It is for this reason, Wallace explains that the main character, the bride, is absent in the centrepiece, a direct correlation to the evil that is being disregarded in the grand scheme of marriage of giving away the girl child, of the pain inflicted upon them for a lifetime of regret.

A design that calls for immediate action, a red card that needs to be called out.

Everyday Prayer Solutions

Designer: Faheem Khan

Faheem Kham; Less Water, More Holy: Tools for Sustainable Ablution, Mixed-media, 2022. Image Courtesy the designer.

While Wallace’s work puts the focus on action, Faheem Khan’s design is all about soul introspection, about meditation and calm countenance. Khan wishes to use design to control usage of water, and keep the process of ablution, adhered to the teaching of Prophet Muhammad. A divine thought brought to life and practical use through simple design thinking.

Faheem Khan explains, “Muslims pray five times a day, and before each prayer, they first clean themselves by performing ritual ablution (wudu). The eight-step purification process of wudu cleanses the body from head to toe. The Hadiths of Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim tell us the Prophet Muhammad needed just one mudd of water (650ml) to complete wudu, but most people consume many times that amount—four-to-seven litres is more common today. To visualise and better understand the nature of performing wudu with just one mudd of water, this thesis includes a two-part research investigation. “

Contemporary artifacts by Faheem Khan designed to guide users toward a more reflective and sustainable wudu.

The first part proposes eight individual artifacts—each one designed to analyze and illustrate the process of wudu, showing how little water is needed for each step of the process. Next, lessons extracted from this analytical phase inform a series of contemporary artifacts, designed to guide users toward a more reflective and sustainable wudu, modelled on and inspired by the teachings of the Prophet.

A Cultural Care

Designer: Abdulrahman Al Muftah

Tools used to mindfully prepare natural ingredients, producing remedies with stimulating scents by Abdulrahman.

Abdulrahman Al Muftah has a deep sense of loyalty to his country and wants to create designs that will benefit the country.  He has earlier created a set of products, terra that shows his commitment to sustainable solutions. In his MFA Design project, he has created self-care products that understand the inherent traditions in Qatari society and uses them as his base to create contemporary designs.

“Friday prayer is an essential congregational practice in Muslim communities. To prepare for Friday prayer, worshippers groom and cleanse themselves ahead of time, according to Islamic ablution rituals, and dress in their best attire,” he says.

Tools, Mixed media, 2022. Image Courtesy the designer.

Eadah is a collection of contemporary tools designed to facilitate the pre-prayer cleansing ritual, inspired by traditional Qatari remedies and wellness practices. The tools reflect three balanced considerations: therapeutic touch, meditative making and cultural preservation. They are used to mindfully prepare natural ingredients, producing remedies with stimulating scents. An emphasis on cultural preservation differentiates Eadah from other tools offered by the cosmetics industry. The project benefits from an infusion of Qatari wisdom and multi-generational knowledge, combining local wellness practices with novel tools.

Designer Gente Retkoceri uses a large scale gun to initiate talks about domestic violence and invites discussions and action around it.

All Images by Aadhil Nadeer.