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 Middle Eastern Influence

Sandy Peterson, former UMD design instructor, wears a head scarf known as a hijab. Student art: Verses from the Koran form the image and the text for this print by one of Pederson's students. Student art: This book cover holds a piece of black fabric that once covered the Kaaba, a sacred building in Mecca

A Return from Saudi Arabia:
UMD MFA graduate and Instructor Volunteers at UMD

Sandy Pederson, a former art instructor and graduate student at UMD, is now an assistant professor teaching graphic design at the Dar Al-Hekma College in Saudi Arabia. Dar Al-Hekma in Jeddah is a private, all-girls college of about 900 students.

Pederson is back in the United States on a shortened unpaid leave. She is currently volunteering in the UMD Visual Digital Imaging Lab (Viz-Lab). She will present "Women in Saudi Arabia Speak through Their Designs" a talk on her Middle East experiences, at noon on October 23, in 154 MPAC as part of the “Viz-Lab Presents” series.

Pederson’s talk featured the art of her students as well as her encounters with another culture. “I went in expecting to find a huddled mass of downtrodden women,” said Pederson. “I was wrong.”

She contends that the image of Mid-Eastern culture portrayed in U.S. media is not what she has found. Saudi custom stipulates that when women are around men, they wear an abaya, a long robe, as well as a hijab to cover their heads. Pederson says this degree of modesty is typical of most residents, men and women alike. In the all-girls school, dress is casual. However, when a male visitor arrives, an announcement is made over a loud speaker so faculty and students can cover themselves.

Saudi Arabian law prohibits women from driving but Pederson said she doesn’t miss it because Jeddah traffic is notorious for bad drivers. “The driving has to be seen to be believed,” she said. “There are taxi’s and shuttles so I can get around easily."

When Pederson took the position at the college in Jeddah, friends were concerned she would find that all Americans were hated and that her life might be in danger. She said he didn’t believe this. When she arrived, she found her students were just as concerned that Americans hated Arabs. “It upset them that they could be thought of as terrorists,” she said.

“Mostly, the people I’ve met love Americans, they just disagree with our governmental policies,” said Pederson. “The girls in my classes are the sweetest people.”
Pederson believes her teaching experience in the Mid-East has had positive impact, not only on her students, but for herself as well. “I’ve learned just as much as I’ve taught,” she said.

Pederson said that she is glad to be back in the States but it isn’t what she expected. “Its weird, I came back here and I felt a reverse culture shock.” Where as many of us wouldn’t choose the Middle East as a desired destination, Pederson can’t wait to get back.

The art her students create excites Pederson. Her students are encouraged to reflect parts of themselves in their designs. She says that the posters and books the students construct contain a sense of eastern visual literacy that is seldom found in America. The designs contain Quran verses, Islamic ornamentation, and mosaics.

“It is amazing how graphic design can address social issues,” said Pederson. “A lot of the work is religious. The students want to express what Islam is, and what it really means to be a moderate Muslim.”

Because they do not have movie theaters, and there is less of a media-driven culture, posters are a newer art form there. Pederson teaches an entire class on poster design. The students respond in fresh and unique ways. Pederson believes that this marriage of eastern visual literacy with western design methods is remarkable.

Written by Jordan Hanson

UMD home page editor, Cheryl Reitan,
NEW RELEASES, UMD media contact, Susan Latto,, 218-726-8830

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