A decade of searching: Hadeer Omar finds her sweet spot among cultures and art

By Anthony Langley

“I’ve had a passion for art ever since I was a little girl,” says Hadeer Omar (B.F.A.’10/A; M.F.A.’16/A). “Following that passion and coming to [Virginia Commonwealth University] has been one of the best decisions I’ve made.”

In 2006, Omar was finishing high school in Alexandria, Egypt, when she was encouraged by her mother to enter the VCUQatar Design Competition. The annual contest awards five cash prizes from $200 to $1,000, and the winners are eligible to compete for two Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned Scholarships for Creativity, which provide a full, four-year scholarship to attend VCUQatar.

For the first part of the competition, where she was challenged to create a design that communicated the theme of building, cultivating and maintaining bonds, Omar produced a winning design conveying various world cultures and the bond between their past and their future.

She competed next for one of the two scholarships by creating a design based on the theme “Making a change” and won a full ride to VCUQatar. It was a fitting theme as moving to Doha, Qatar, gave Omar the opportunity to explore multiple career paths.

“I want to educate people around me about my culture and where I come from,” says Omar, who worked as a graphic designer in Qatar after she completed her bachelor’s degree. “Being in a multicultural environment allowed me to adapt and accept others and shaped me into who I am today.”

Feeling a responsibility to raise awareness about how artists use their creativity in the Middle East, Omar returned to her home country during an uprising in 2011 where she filmed and produced her first complete production, “Ouda w sala,” a documentary about the Egyptian revolution.

The following year, Omar opened Kroki Design Studio, a nonprofit online art studio with a twofold mission: to provide a portal for artists to collaborate and experiment with one another and to educate the public about the importance of art in culture.

“I research a specific idea then translate it into a proposal and then ask others to work with me,” Omar says. “It helps artists to innovate and gives them constructive feedback from their peers.”

In 2014, Omar returned to VCUQatar to pursue a master’s degree in design studies. Her thesis focused on culture hacking and how Egyptians took the increasingly globalized culture they found themselves in after the political protests and revolutions that spread across the Middle East beginning in 2011, known as the Arab Spring, and applied their own cultural tools to create a unique space in the world around them, a process she calls “Egyptianization.”

A photo from Omar’s thesis exhibit on culture hacking and “Egyptianization.”

“I realized I needed to take a step back and look at my position in the world around me,” Omar says. “I have my own questions and observations about the world, and I want to make art that reflects that.”

She currently works as a teaching assistant in the Art Foundation program at VCUQatar. Two days a week, she helps students to find their design process and spends the rest of the week working on research projects and her personal work as a visual communicator and independent filmmaker.

For Omar, having an American institution in the Middle East provides an opportunity to share her experiences with and to learn from students with diverse backgrounds.

“On one hand, I’m able to do research and develop my own methods in academia, and on the other, I can still be a part of the market and complete commercial projects,” Omar says. “Whether it’s sharing my work or sharing knowledge with students, it helps me grow and develop myself.”

Omar took over VCU Alumni’s Instagram last week. Her posts showcase the path she’s taken since completing her master’s degree and the unique perspective that comes from working for more than a decade to find her place in the world around her.