A contraption that makes rosaries while you pray. A spinning wheel that creates lanterns instead of clothing. And a device that uses balloons to capture the metaphorical breath of creation.
Those are the inventions recently put forth by three students at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar in a newly posted video called “Souvenirs.”
The six-and-a-half minute video showcases the work of Othman Khunji, Samreen Zahra and Malaz Elgemiabby, who were tasked by their professors to see an object not just as a static and physical element, but rather as the sum of its function, time and behavior.
The goal, they were told, was to take an existing object, preferably traditional, and redesign it as a machine with a different use.
Speaking to Doha News, Asst. Prof. Simone Muscolino, who taught the students, said:
“They had to design these sort of personal factories, machines able to produce something, putting more attention on the conceptual quality of the process, rather than in the quality of the final outcome itself.”
The only stipulation was that the device, and the creation, had to be “analog” – meaning, its process needed to be driven by a physical act, not electricity or technology.
The three final projects focus on very different motifs.
The first, “Prayery,” by Othman Khunji, a 31-year-old Bahraini, is a reflection on the power of prayer to enhance and alter reality. His device uses the movements of “sajud” to create a tangible outcome in the form of a “Misbah” rosary.
Khunji’s device, fabricated using a variety of materials and processes – carpentry for the frame, VCU-Q’s very own 3D printer for the mechanism and a UV printer for the beads – was the result of two months of work.
Speaking to Doha News, Khunji said:
“I wanted to target two audiences – kids who are learning how to pray and adults who have strayed away from prayer. My device was intended to give them a sort of extra incentive to pray by contributing towards creating a tangible object (a rosary), every time they prayed. I picked the most powerful position in prayer – bowing down – a totally surrender to God, as a trigger for the custom-made mechanism,” he said.
Once the person praying bows his head, touching the prayer mat, the device shifts downwards, triggering a bolt that pushes a mechanism. Khunji estimates that within a week of regular prayer, the mechanism would create a personal 11-bead rosary, a sample of which is also featured in the video.
The second device, “Charkha,” by Samreen Zahra, involves the repurposing of a spinning wheel, a machine used for centuries in the production of yarns and threads, into a device that creates lanterns.
And “Soul Maker,” by Malaz Elgemiabby, a 26-year-old Sudanese student, is a metaphor for the breath of creation. Her machine captures a person’s soul or breath, trapping it in a physical orb.
Elgemiabby’s said her project was driven by the concept of a person’s breath being a memory of the person’s existence in a specific period of time.
She added that she was also inspired by religious references that God created people by breathing souls into them, so that bodies become the containers for souls. She continued:
“It works to remind us all that we simultaneously share this existence with our environment as we continue to breathe. If you think about it, we are somehow recreating these containers of our soul in our everyday life that we continue to breathe into it, whether it is our house or our workspace or even our coffee mug…”
Elgemiabby’s device used a balloon as a rotating molding device that spun a mixture of sand, plaster, and water to produce a fragile orb. The device was created using wood from VCU-Q, with other components sourced from industrial and hardware stores in Qatar.
The mixture took several tries to perfect, as it had to be liquid enough to rotate inside the balloon, while dense enough to hold its shape and dry.
According to Muscolino, the video was shot in two days, and each student was required to edit their portion of the video. The group then collaborated with Doha-based musician John Burrow, to produce original scores for each of the three machines.