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Story | Education
29 June 2020

From creating art to exhibiting in galleries – a QF student’s journey from design major to museum study


Nourbanu Hijazi studied art at VCUarts Qatar before joining UCL Qatar to learn about museum practices, a combination she hopes to utilize to contribute towards contextualizing art to the local community in Qatar

Nourbanu Hijazi likes to surround herself with creative spaces, and that becomes all the more evident when she turns her video on for the interview for this story. As the 27-year-old student of arts and museums grins on the screen to talk about her university journey, the wall behind her boasts a colorful collage of photos, digital artwork, and paintings she has created over the years at school.

As Hijazi turns and points towards the wall to introduce some of her favorite pieces, one can feel her passion and energy for art—something Hijazi has been carrying as a child. Growing up, she would gather copies of the National Geographic magazine and try to redraw animals from it for she was captivated by them.

“I was always fascinated by living creatures and nature, and truly, it’s just beautiful,” recalls Hijazi, now a student at UCL Qatar, a partner university of Qatar Foundation (QF), where she will soon be graduating with a master’s in Museum and Gallery Practice.

Hijazi on the video call next to the wall displaying her artworks

Prior to joining UCL Qatar, Hijazi pursued a master’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar), another QF partner university, where she majored in design and digital fabrication.

Hijazi’s art primarily focuses on capturing emotions such as anxiety and conflict depicted throughs designs ranging from the biology of living creatures to processes of the human mind.

“My work is like a living organism, which makes sense because I'm also a living organism, so it is ever-changing and not linear. I am interested in psychology, mythology and philosophy, and it’s always interesting to explore the range of human emotions,” says Hijazi. “I find them fascinating because it helps me process the world around me and express my feelings.”

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It was this impulse to understand the world around her and share her understanding with others that pushed Hijazi to join UCL Qatar, where she would learn about how to combine her expertise in art with museum curation and exhibition in order to make art available and more accessible to the public.

“UCL Qatar was a great way for me to kind of extend my field of knowledge and practice because I am not just an artist or a designer but I'm also an educator. I wanted to branch out and work with museums and galleries not just as an artist but as an educator who is part of their outreach and education programs,” says Hijazi.

Everything is connected, and life is just a beautiful journey of finding that thread that connects everything and making a really comfy, cozy sweater

Nourbanu Hijazi

Hijazi said she loves when a piece of artwork is exhibited in public and different people from different backgrounds connect to it through the same deeper meaning.

“It’s weird but I love when the person standing next to you looks at the same work and you feel like there's this mutual understanding about what you're looking at. It's not spoken but you can feel it,” adds Hijazi. “Art can help you achieve these meaningful connections.”

This is the power of art — connecting people not just to each other but also to their environment — that fuels Hijazi’s creative desires. As she sums it, “everything is connected, and life is just a beautiful journey of finding that thread that connects everything and making a really comfy, cozy sweater out of it.”

Contextualize art in Qatar

Hijazi’s grandparents moved to Qatar in 1960s when the war broke out in their native Palestine. Since then, the family has been living in Doha, which has become Hijazi’s permanent home.

According to Hijazi, growing up with a deep passion for art in a city like Doha has been very uplifting because of the city’s rich art landscape.

“I believe museums in Qatar are in the process of readapting a lot of Western museum practices and creating their own practices, which I find fascinating and I don’t know any other museums in the Gulf doing that,” she says.

Hijazi next to the artwork she created at Doha Fire Station, part of the exhibition titled “On Paper”.

In 2018, Hijazi was selected as one of the participants of the Doha Fire Station’s Artist In Residence program — a nine-month residency program in which Qatar-based artists use studio spaces in the Fire Station to practice art, and work with mentors and curators.

Hijazi has also conducted several workshops for the general community at the Fire Station and VCUarts Qatar.

“Qatar is finding a way to make contemporary art, which is predominantly Western, more contextual to the local community. And making people here connect to music, art, and so on,” adds Hijazi about why she enjoys working with local institutions in Qatar.

As Hijazi prepares to graduate in October 2020 from UCL Qatar, she looks back at the course titled Museum and Heritage in the Arab World as one of her favorite academic involvements. As an artist who has exhibited her work in Qatar, UAE, and Lebanon, the course has helped her inspect the Arab region’s art landscape using various theoretical approaches and case studies.

Qatar is finding a way to make contemporary art, which is predominantly Western, more contextual to the local community

Nourbanu Hijazi

Currently, Hijazi is working on her senior thesis that involves exploring two local institutes — Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art and the Doha Fire Station — to study how they are tailoring contemporary art to the local community to contribute toward social and human development in Qatar.

“I think the contemporary art scene in Qatar is very unique to its community, and I would love to work here with local museums,” says Hijazi about her post-graduation plans.

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