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In the Studio: The Art of Observation

Hibah Osman and Donnie Villemez craft complex modes of connection by analyzing the world around them.

As we prepare for the 40th M.F.A. Thesis Exhibition on April 6, our “In the Studio” series gives readers the chance to get to know the artists behind the work. See what inspires our School of Art grad students!  

Hibah Osman and Donnie Villemez are adept problem solvers. Their work is informed by a desire to make sense of the world around them and, whether by studying cultures, questioning social dynamics or delving into personal experiences, observation is central to their creative processes. 

“Ultimately, my work is concerned with consciousness,” says Villemez, a student in the Interdisciplinary Practice and Emerging Forms (IPEF) program, as he describes his thesis video installation project. “It’s about processing and connecting with the world from my point of view.”

For Osman, a graphic design student, research is central to her design work and observation is the first step in the process. “I brainstorm, hone in on a concept and then start reading and observing, trying to take everything in.”

Though their graduate projects take different forms, both Osman and Villemez bring extensive backgrounds in multimedia to their practices. During her undergraduate studies in Beirut, where she lived as a teenager and young adult, Osman focused on web and interactive design, and Villemez tried his hand at disciplines ranging from communications to computer engineering as an undergraduate.

Learn more about Osman and Villemez in the Q&As below! 

Hibah Osman, Graphic Design ’18

What steps do you take when you approach a design project?
First, I start creating “mind maps,” a cloud of words to find one concept. It helps generate ideas. Then I start asking myself questions like, “how will it work in a design?” and “how will I transmit my message?” and I start preparing the context once I find the concept. Then, at the end, when I have all the information, I start designing it. That’s probably the easiest part. The research is definitely the hardest part of the process.

What themes do you tend to explore in your work?
I’m interested in semiotics, the study of signs and symbols, and also discovering other cultures. I’ve worked on projects about UH students, which was interesting since we’re so diverse, and the Third Ward community. We also had an assignment about Italo Calvino’s famous book “Invisible Cities,” where we chose one short story to imagine and then visually represent the city. It reminded me of when you read a book before seeing a movie, and you have a picture of it in your mind. 

What are you currently working on?
My thesis is about Beirut. I moved there when I was 15 years old, and it was politically and socially tense, so my work is about the responses I got from the city. I’m tackling issues and stories from that city in a variety of aesthetics and moods. Often the work is fun and, sometimes, sarcastic as a way of getting the viewer to enter into a difficult topic. There’s another project about idioms and playing with words. I also have a project about the functionality of Google Maps in Lebanon. All of it will be installed and shown together as one lively, interrelated project, titled “In Translation, Lost in Beirut.” I want to have fun with my projects, especially when they’re more personal and about understanding Middle Eastern culture.

Donnie Villemez, Interdisciplinary Practice and Emerging Forms ’18

What themes or concepts do you explore in your work?
My work is very personal and informed by experiences of loneliness, detachment and social isolation. I find that I’m more emotionally connected to spaces than to people. I think, basically, the goal of my creative quest is to make a true connection with someone. 

The IPEF program seems to provide a lot of flexibility. What medium do you prefer to work in, and what’s your creative process?
I’ve always connected with computer animation, and before coming to UH I studied computer engineering and graphic design. With my work, I’m often creating a space using technology. For this piece — it’s an interlocking 3D puzzle, of sorts — I designed it in Maya and then printed it in 3D with Rhino. I’m currently working on an animation. I create the scenes in Maya, the render them and export them to AfterEffects. 

Can you describe your thesis project?
I’m working on an autobiographical animation that deals with my struggles coping with the unique traits associated with my case of Asperger’s Syndrome. The video is representative of my state of mind as I try to navigate around crowds. It starts with a scene of a cave, which references the Allegory of Plato’s Cave, then cuts to a street scene with these humanoid figures casting shadows on the buildings.

How has the IPEF program helped you grow creatively?
It’s given me a lot of freedom. And even though grad school has been challenging — I’ve wrestled with self-doubt at times — the program really has helped me creatively. I’ve discovered new modes of making art that I wouldn't have experienced otherwise.

The M.F.A. Thesis Exhibition opens at Blaffer Art Museum Friday, April 6 at 6 p.m. and will be on view through Saturday, April 21.