Architecture students of the American University of Sharjah visit historic buildings and museums and develop their drawing skills. Reema Saffarini meets them.

T hirteen students from the School of Architecture and Design at the American University of Sharjah went on a three-week trip to Tuscany and Umbria, Italy, to study the country's rich art and architecture. The trip was part of a three-credit-hour course — "seeing vernacular Italy" and gave the students a chance to improve their observational drawing skills.

"Every day of the Italy trip entailed a visit to either a museum or a significant place in terms of art or architecture. The agenda was completely about drawing," said Associate Professor of Foundations Brian Dougan.

He added: "We drew every day. By the time our 23 days were finished, all the students had developed directness in their perception. In addition to drawing on individual A4 sheets of Italian paper, the students maintained a sketchbook that contained drawings, found objects and notes. The sketchbook documented daily events and experiences and became a neat and concise record of the whole trip."

Mariam Hobeldin was one the students who went on the trip. A visual communication junior, she said the tour was a success.

"This trip was important, especially for students in our major. We had a chance to experience first hand the places we see and read about in books. It is a totally different experience," she said.

Ahmad Mustafa, a multimedia student, said the visit had many cultural pluses. "We interacted with people from different countries, met students from other universities, got to learn about them and they got to learn about us," he said.

The trip helped Mariam develop her drawing skills. "I started looking at things differently. I now pay more attention to details," she said.

Students were required to draw and sketch using watercolours and pens. No pencils were allowed. "We were not supposed to erase our drawings," Mariam said.

The students learned to appreciate time. "Usually when we work on our projects, we know we have a long semester ahead to complete them. However, in Italy we had to get the job done quickly," said Dana Sharif, an architecture junior.

"We had 23 days to finish our work. If we needed to talk to someone or do something we had to do it on the spot. As a result, we became more observant and conscious of time," she said.

Students, however, came back with more than just refined drawing skills and time management abilities.

"During this trip I learned to depend on myself. Nobody was there to prepare food, make up the bed or clean the laundry. We had the opportunity to do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted." said Dana.

Meeting other students

The trip has brought the students together. New friendships have blossomed.

"The cooperation between students was good. Even though we did not know each other well at the beginning of the trip, in the end we became a family," she said.

During the visit, the students also met and mingled with students from various universities around the world. "We shared many things together, our meals, cultures, perspectives … etc. It was a great experience," said Mariam.

The tour became even more interesting when they were invited to visit the mayor of Castiglion Fiorentino — a city located south of Arezzo province in Tuscany.

"He was very impressed with the students and excited for having people coming from the Middle East to his little town in Italy. He presented the students with a Castiglion Fiorentino silver pin and an open invitation to visit any time," said Dougan.

Dougan was also interviewed by the local media in Castiglion Fiorentino.

"It was very impressive. They conducted research to know more about the university and the emirate of Sharjah," Dougan said.

The students will present their work and photographs from their trip on November 19 at 4pm at AUS.

How important is the study of art?

Dana Sharif, a third year architecture student, noticed that students were not alone in sitting for hours in front of cathedrals, museums and paintings to draw. Ordinary people, old and young, were also there, sketching history.

"Compared to people there, I think people in the region are caught up with religion and their life. Art is not as important in our culture," said Ahmad Mustafa, third year multimedia student.

Mariam Hobeldin, a visual communication junior, believes that art is not regarded as "important" in this society. "It is more important to become a doctor or an engineer. As a freshman, people would ask me about what I do and when I tell them drawing, they would go: ‘What? Drawing?'."

Dana, on the other hand, believes that art has always been part of the culture in the Arab world. "If you go to Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and other countries you'll be able to see real historic art work, whether we are talking about calligraphy, mosaic and others," she said.

However, Italians' fascination with art has its reasons, said Associate Professor of Foundations Brian Dougan. "People grew up with buildings 1,500 years old. Wherever you look or go, you see cathedrals, museums, paintings … everybody's life literally revolves around art," he said.

In contrast, said Dana, historic buildings and forts in many parts of the Arab world were re-constructed. "Everything changes. In Italy, for example, the streets are still the same streets people used years and years ago, which definitely is not the case here," she said.