Art students from each department received the opportunity to travel to Qatar for the biennial Tasmeem Doha Conference 2013 in a collaborative effort to localize design in Qatar’s capital city of Doha.
Faculty from each art department nominated students early in the fall semester to participate in the conference, hosted in Doha, Qatar March 10-17. The School of the Arts funded the trip, which included free airfare and housing at the VCU Qatar campus.
The conference focused on an overall theme of “hybrid-making,” an innovative type of collaboration combining professionals in all kinds of career paths.
In total, more than 500 students and professionals in the art and design community traveled from five different continents to participate in the biennial design conference.
In the past few decades, the city of Doha has grown from a small town to a city boasting a population of more than one million people. However, most products in Doha are imported, which results in a major dependency on foreign nations.
The sub-theme for the conference, “Made in Qatar,” was meant to emphasize the importance of innovation and production within the country by combining the knowledge within several fields of expertise.
During the seven days of the conference, workshops and labs were held as a way for all of the students to collaborate on specific projects led by the head of the workshops. Prior to their voyage to Qatar, students were asked to choose which workshops or labs they wanted to participate in, usually selecting ones relevant to their studies at VCU.
VCU junior and double major in sculpture and art education Alex Curley described his experience working in labs with VCUQ students as extremely beneficial.
“I was in a lab that explored various ways to incorporate technology and textiles,” said Curley, who works with textiles in his own work. “As a lab liaison, we all worked together to teach each other how to do things … (The) sharing of info in an artistic sense is a significant part of what art education is all about.”
Interior design major Meredith Argenzio worked with Swedish production designer Kristine Bille to construct a floor length gown out of metal mesh, wire, plastic tubing and recycled materials that Bille had previously gathered from around Doha.
“Our garment … had to draw inspiration from Aspire Tower,” Argenzio said. “I was impressed and inspired by how each person in the group took on an equal amount of work and really invested. We now all have work on display at Mahtaf for a month.”
The Tasmeem Conference consisted of a lecture series, a film festival, student and faculty exhibitions and a keynote speaker. Each year a new keynote speaker is chosen, relevant to the theme of the conference.
This year, world-renowned architect Rem Koolhaas was selected. As winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, a former journalist and script writer and the brains behind two large-scale building projects currently being built in Doha, Koolhaas spoke on the importance of hybridity in today’s growing societies.
Students generally worked about seven hours a day. After hours in the lab each day, students were free to explore the city of Doha, participating in cultural activities arranged by the student association at VCUQ or by their own exploration.
Although the conference was meant to be an eye-opening educational experience for students participating, the learning continued outside of the labs and workshops.
“I had never been overseas before and, I have to be honest, I didn’t really know anything about Qatar or the Middle East before this trip,” Curley said. “Getting out of my daily grind of school and work in Richmond to experience life in a foreign place is amazing; it’s also a reminder that there is so much diversity in the world.”