HawkStrong: HFC alumna’s artwork showcased in Manhattan

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Headshot of Zeinab Saab.

Since 2012, HFC alumna Zeinab “Z” Saab’s amazing artistry has been seen in more than 60 art exhibitions across the nation. Her latest – and perhaps greatest – exhibition has been in Manhattan.

From March 23 through May 13, Saab was one of four artists whose artwork appeared in the group exhibition “A Thought Is a Memory” at the CUE Art Foundation in New York City. Noel Maghathe served as the curator.

These artists, all of whom have Middle Eastern backgrounds, drew upon their varied experiences in ways that both celebrate and challenge inherited identities. Through sculpture, photography, collage, animation, and painting, they embraced ways of making art that are highly personal, often collective, and that position fluidity and rootedness as complementary rather than opposing forces in building selfhood, community, and culture.

A dream come true to have her artwork showcased in Manhattan

“I was invited by the curator to participate in the exhibition, which focuses on memory, nostalgia, and the Arab diaspora,” said Saab, of Portland, OR.

The exhibition showcased three of Saab's paintings – “So Happy I Could Die from This Watermelon Sugar High,” “You Wanted Femininity, but All I Have Is Fire,” and “Can't a Girl Just Spiral in Peace?” – and 19 smaller pieces.

“This was exciting,” Saab recalled. “It was definitely an incredible experience to be a part of this exhibition, especially with good friend, artist Kiki Salem. For the show to be in Manhattan was something I would have dreamed about happening at this point in my career. I am so grateful to Noel for all the hard work they put into their exhibition and to Jinny Khanduja, executive director of the CUE Art Foundation, for allowing us to use the space.”

HFC helped calibrate and refocus her educational journey

Born in Dearborn, Saab is one of six children and the only daughter. She graduated from Fordson High School and began her education at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. After completing a year at CCS, she transferred to HFC (then Henry Ford Community College).

“I decided to come back to Dearborn to recalibrate and really question what it is within art that I want to do,” said Saab. “Re-taking foundations classes, painting, and drawing at HFC made me realize that I have more room to grow in mediums I shied away from because I thought I wasn't good at them.”

At HFC, Saab earned her associate degree in studio art. Transferring to Bowling Green State University in Ohio, she earned her bachelor’s degree in printmaking and drawing. Afterward, she earned her master’s degree in printmaking with a focus on book arts from Northern Illinois University.

HFC Faculty Chair of Fine and Performing Arts Steve Glazer taught Saab in ceramics when she was a work study gallery attendant in the Sisson Gallery in the MacKenzie Fine Arts Center.

“She was always fun to talk to and she seemed quite focused for a young adult her age,” said Glazer. “As a gallery attendant, she was always willing to help. She seemed to have a clear path to transfer to a 4-year art program from the time I first met her. When I asked her about her plans beyond HFC, BGSU was her first choice.”

“There is more academic and artistic freedom in teaching at the college level”

For the past four years, Saab has taught studio art at Portland Community College. She credits many of her former art teachers, including several at HFC – Glazer, Joyce Brienza, Betty Brownless, and Anne Garavaglia – for inspiring her to become a teacher.

“There is more academic and artistic freedom in teaching at the college level,” she said. “You also get the chance to have more students who are focused on becoming artists.”

HFC prepared Saab to further her education at BGSU and later NIU, and also as a teacher and professional artist.

“My experiences at HFC also planted the seed I have now for higher education and accessibility,” she said. “And now that I teach at a community college, I understand even further that every student comes here not just to get the credits to transfer, but to prove something to the people in their fields. They want to prove that they have something to offer, to become whoever it is they want to be.”

Saab continued: “The best part about teaching is seeing the progress over time and the students starting to believe in their skills. Also, having the ability to plant seeds or water the seeds of students who are on the cusp of a big thought, and how it manifests into something they didn’t expect.”

Letting her artwork lead the way

Saab’s preferred medium is painting.

“I don’t like to tie myself down to one medium,” she explained. “I like to bounce around and have the work tell me where to go.”

Her next art exhibition will be from September to December at Washington State University in Vancouver, WA.

“As an artist, I enjoy the solitude and the lack of fear in trying something new,” said Saab. “It can be scary at first, but it somehow manages to pay off the more you practice and expand on it.”