Finding Inspiration

Givens Fellowship gives student chance to expand artistic vision

Finding Inspiration

By Matt Markey

As a first generation Arab-American, Zeinab Saab has often found herself trying to blend two lives into one, and be respectful to both while maintaining her own distinct identity.

“It has always been a somewhat difficult balancing act,” the senior fine arts major said. “I was raised in a traditional household, with Middle Eastern values, and those traditions are a huge part of me, but life is different in a modern, western world.”

She has found that not all traditions are necessary, while everything that is new is not necessarily beneficial.

“It can be an internal conflict at times, and you go back and forth with it,” she said. “If you are always proving yourself to both sides, then it is a constant struggle, but I have found that in the end, it doesn’t really matter. You must follow your own path.”

The 24-year-old started at a different college, took a couple of years off from school, and then found the program she had been looking for at BGSU.

“I originally came here to study art education, but I started taking more art classes and I realized I wanted to just do art,” she said. “I’ve always enjoyed drawing, and it was something I became adept at. And as I moved along, I got more energized, and the instructors I had fueled that drive.”

That internal push drove Saab to seek opportunities outside the classroom, and pursue them with the assistance of a Stuart R. Givens Memorial Fellowship. During the summer of 2014 she interned at a private gallery in downtown Chicago. The original purpose of the internship was to kindle new ideas for Saab’s bachelor of fine arts show, and it did that, and much more. After returning, she created a huge 12-by-12 print installation that earned the 2015 Best of BFA Show, the most prestigious award at the event.

“My summer in Chicago really helped open my eyes to a more a conceptual realm of thinking when producing my artwork,” she said. “It made me think outside of the box and put forth more effort in researching more theoretical approaches of art, and how other artists are going outside of just using canvas and paint.”

Saab said her work has a very personal connection, revolving primarily around the concepts of cultural and ethnic issues, and the change of identity through time. She found Chicago offered her the ideal melting pot of ideas and identities.

“It kept me still in the Midwest where the people are friendly and it has a sense of community,” she said. “There was something about Chicago that really appealed to me, with so many young people making art and opening studios.”

Saab did not have to search far for inspiration during her Givens fellowship.

“As an artist there in the heart of the city, you constantly see people ready to go, ready to do something, like they are on a mission to make their lives better,” she said. “That’s a good motivation, and it helps you put things in perspective.”

She would catch the train or the bus each day, and just the ride to work would ignite her creative intellect.

“There was something beautiful about it, and it was so easy talking to strangers, too,” she said. “It was surprising how open people were, and you never know who you will meet. It could be that person that inspires you.”

Following graduation, Saab plans to move to Chicago and intern at a printing operation while developing a portfolio for graduate school. She eventually wants to earn a master’s in fine arts and then possibly try teaching.

“As I look back on my experience, this fellowship was beyond rewarding,” she said. “Had I not had this opportunity to go there and learn from the owners of the gallery, and get their advice, I would not have come out of this as the person I have become.”

The summer in Chicago played a major role in the art Saab now creates, helping her think more conceptually, and showing her the value of research.

“I loved the city, loved the vibe, loved the people, and I took advantage of everything I could. I did not waste any time. I would work and then go home every day and draw.”

Saab said the fellowship experience continues to inspire her, and she has continued to draw since returning from Chicago, picking up the sketch pad whenever she has a few free minutes.

“I have not put the pen down,” she said. “I wanted to see what it was like to be someplace where art was everywhere, and I found what I was looking for in Chicago.”

Inspired by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Burch Fellows Program, the Stuart R. Givens Memorial Fellowship was initiated by friends of Dr. Givens to honor his passion for student learning. The Fellowship recognizes resourcefulness, imagination, and significant ability among Bowling Green State University undergraduate students by supporting self-designed off-campus experiences that will enable them to pursue a passionate interest in a manner not otherwise possible through an academic program, regular summer job, enrichment program, or organized study abroad program. To remain true to the spirit of the Givens Fellowship, students are encouraged to think broadly in shaping their projects; that is, to look beyond activities that relate to their field of academic study. It is expected that the experience will make a demonstrable difference in their lives and help them grow both personally and intellectually. Make a gift to support this, or other BGSU student programs.