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03 March, 2011

VCUQatar Project Awarded UREP Grant

Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatars project titled Orality to Image: Traditional Qatari Narratives and Visual Media, which proposes to preserve and re-present traditional Qatari culture by adapting cross-generational oral narratives into text and graphic form, has been awarded an Undergraduate Research Experience Program (UREP) grant by Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF).

One of the unintentional and undesirable bi-products of the rapid social, cultural and economic change Qatar is experiencing is the erosion and/or loss of traditional Qatari culture and heritage. This project seeks to preserve and re-present this legacy by adapting it into a form that will accommodate the cultural consumption patterns of the current generation of young adults. The stories collected will be presented in both Arabic and English and will be accompanied by visual illustrations to create a series of graphic stories. These graphic stories will be collected in an anthology targeted at all readers who are interested in Qatari culture in general, and young adult readers in particular.

Patricia Paine Gibbons, assistant professor of English, assistant director of Liberal Arts & Sciences at VCUQatar, Dr. Sara Al-Mohannadi, assistant professor of English Language at Qatar University, Jesse Ulmer, assistant professor of English at VCUQatar and Donald Early, assistant professor in Fashion Design at VCUQatar are the faculty mentors working on this inter-institutionally collaborative project and Michael Hersud, assistant professor in Graphic Design at VCUQatar is the faculty advisor. The students working on this project are Al Hussein Ahmed Wanas, Ameera Makki, Felicity Ulmer, Joanne Marie Follack Bermejo, Khadija Khozema Safri, Mariam Al Sarraj, Mashaer Sultan Alyaarabi, Nawar Adel Al-Mutlaq and Reem Al-Hajri.

January was dedicated to content collection and nearly 50 stories were collected. In February, stories were selected for inclusion in the anthology and March onwards the team will work on creating a graphic novel while situating the project in a scholarly context.

“We believe that these stories, which are both informative and engaging, could be of valuable use in the classroom and beyond to educate young readers about traditional Qatari culture and lore, to promote literacy, and to instill an appreciation for reading and the visual arts,” said Ms Gibbons. Recent evidence suggests that illustrated stories are fast becoming a popular form of culture in the GCC region. As recently as 2010, a print cartoon styled in the traditional aesthetic of Manga—a form of illustration that emerged in Japan in the late nineteenth century—created by Qais Sedki, titled Gold Ring, received the Sheikh Zayed Book award for children’s literature in Abu Dhabi. Rashed Al Oraimi, secretary general of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, remarked Sedki’s book introduces young readers to treasured, foundational aspects of local culture such as Falconry. Al Oraimi further noted that Sedki’s book “smartly employs this interesting topic to stress the deeply-rooted Arab Culture and heritage; The Arab virtues of family values, hospitality, respect for others and pride in traditions” (Sheikh Zayed Book Award). “Given the success of this project in the neighboring United Arab Emirates, we believe that our project, which shares many of the same goals and strategies, is both timely and relevant for Qatar,” added Ms Gibbons.

The interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of this project has the capacity to enhance not only the intellectual, creative and educational connections between VCUQatar and Qatar University, but also between these universities and the community at large. The production of this anthology will encompass the knowledge, methods, and perspectives of both the humanities and the arts. The project will be of interest to a variety of fields while creating ongoing research opportunities both within and beyond the university. Moreover, the project has the potential to create teaching, research and design opportunities while also offering a way to create and foster a rich dialogue between universities in Qatar and the diverse life-worlds of the local and regional community.

“In addition to making a valuable social and cultural contribution, we believe that this anthology of traditional Qatari narratives represents a potentially valuable and effective learning tool in the classroom. Many educators recognize the pedagogical soundness and effectiveness of using comics, graphic novels, and other forms of popular culture to support learning in formal educational settings,” said Mr Ulmer.

Some of the students with their faculty mentors Patricia Payne Gibbons, Jesse Ulmer, Donald Earley and Michael Hersud working on the VCUQatar project ‘Orality to Image: Traditional Qatari Narratives and Visual Media’

Some of the students, with their faculty mentors Patricia Payne Gibbons, Jesse Ulmer, Donald Earley and Michael Hersud, who are working on the VCUQatar project ‘Orality to Image: Traditional Qatari Narratives and Visual Media’