Documenting Visual Design at NYUAD

Documenting Visual Design at NYUAD


Documenting Visual Design at NYUAD

Goffredo Puccetti

September 2019

DESIGN WORKS was a show set in the Arts Center Project Space from January 9 to 23, 2019.

Curated by the students Diego Arias and Van Anh Bui, with the assistance of Erin Collins and Goffredo Puccetti, it presented an overview of all the visual design works carried on in-house, by students and faculty from 2012 to present. It served both as an archive and as a celebration.

Visual Design practice entered the curriculum of our university in January 2012 with the offering of an elective class named Designing Abu Dhabi. Since then, in-house graphic design has played a major role in assisting the establishment of NYUAD’s visual identity: student-driven design has not only supported the institution’s needs in outstanding ways, but also–perhaps more importantly–it has helped us to define our mission and vision. Students have assisted faculty and staff in making sure that the quality of everything we did was properly reflected in our designed material. They highlighted our strengths and even corrected our mishaps. To give but one, quite significant, example: we did not have an Arabic logotype in place until the students designed one!

Some of their work is now gone for good, and for several works, sadly there is little more left than a blurry photo taken with a smartphone camera. But many other designs are here. And they are here to stay: in the Arts Center, the corridors of the Theater and Music Departments display beautiful posters designed by students. Even the fire doors have been transformed by the students into memorable landmarks. And every time we welcome new students at Marhaba Week, every time we cheer for our Athletics teams, every time our seniors get to hold the silver Torch on Commencement day, the legacy of student-driven design is apparent. 

Moreover, the outreach of their work has gone way beyond the “Saadiyat bubble, with projects of national and international relevance such as the visual identity for the World Wildlife Federation in the UAE, or the ArabWIC organization, now present in more than 20 countries, just to name two. Following a request from the Office of the Provost, our alumna Harshini Karunaratne recorded video at the show and has captured its essence in the amazing eleven-minute documentary shown below.

Documentary by Harshini Karunaratne

Goffredo Puccetti is Assistant Professor of the Practice of Visual Arts at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Harshini Karunaratne graduated from NYUAD in 2018, with a double major in Film and New Media and in Theater. You can find more of her work at


[dgbc_blog_carousel posts_number="6" show_categories="off" show_date="off" dot_nav="on" equal_height="on" author_bg_color="#0c71c3" inner_container_padding="0px||||false|false" title_margin="5px||||false|false" _builder_version="3.29.3" title_text_color="#e09900" title_line_height="1.5em" meta_font="|700|||||||" meta_text_color="#0c71c3" meta_font_size="18px" content_text_color="#ffffff" hover_enabled="0" _i="0" _address="" type="3" include_categories="49,50,427"][/dgbc_blog_carousel]

24-Hour Film Race

24-Hour Film Race

At 8 p.m. on April 5th, twelve teams of students — armed only with flip cameras, a prompt, and 24 hours to finish a film — rushed out of the doors of Sama 442 into a night of movie-0making.

It was NYUAD’s annual 24 hour film race.

This year’s prompt was “The Journey,” and each film was required to feature a journey of some sort, a collapse, and tape in any sense of that word. The time limit for each film was three-and-a-half minutes.

Featured here are three of the films from the race. Know the Night, created by Keriana Evans, Nolan Funk, and Anna Rosa, won Best Film. In Rosa’s words, the film is “a modern take on the ancient myth of Sisyphus, for whom the struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill his heart.”

Created by James Hosken and Jamie Sutherland, Read to Me, was awarded Best Acting for the role played by Alex Larkin. In contrast to the childlike, playful role acted by Valentina Vela, Larkin’s portrayal was sinister and alarmingly believable. Director Hosken notes that “at times during the shoot, even Jamie and I felt uncomfortable with how real and scary Mr. Larkin was appearing.” Larkin suggests  that “there’s just something about a calm and collected killer that is far scarier than one that shows emotion.”

Adam Pivirotto, Emily Eagen and Young Nae Choi’s film, The Music Box won Best Directing. They created their film with the hope, according to Eagen, that “the audience members experience something beautiful that — even though it’s not perfect — will touch their hearts.”

Reflecting on the intensity of the night, Eagen describes how “the 24-Hour Film Race frees up a great deal of creativity. There’s no time to second-guess yourself, and, in many ways, that can be quite liberating. But it also comes with limitations. You have to plan the plot, sketch the shoot, choose the costumes, construct the set, and call the actors. And you have to work with the other half-dozen teams racing around looking as hectic as you feel. It requires patience, sharing, and a great many concessions, but it also requires that you know what your goal is.”

This year’s film race was met with immense support and enthusiasm, with the evening screening on April 9th drawing two-thirds of the student body. Twelve films entered the race in total.

The race is shaping up to become an NYUAD annual tradition. Filmmakers were enthused by the prospect of the event’s continuing. “It is amazing to see other students’ work and get a sense of the incredibly different perspectives and styles they all possess,” says Pivirotto. “Not one film was like another!”  Hosken adds, “We should really do this type of thing more often. I had a complete blast.”

[Top Photo: Emily Eagen in The Music Box.]

Remembering CHAOS

Remembering CHAOS

This week we continue our exploration of the collaboration between NYUAD’s Theater program and the Theater Mitu company by looking back at the Spring 2011 production of CHAOS, the first-ever professional theatrical production in Abu Dhabi.

In the spring of 2011, the NYUAD Institute in collaboration with NYU-Abu Dhabi’s Theater Program presented Theater Mitu’s production of CHAOS on the shores of the Arabian Gulf. This theatrical meditation on dreams, faith and the journey of the worker, offered a rare opportunity to the NYUAD community and to Abu Dhabi as a whole. For Abu Dhabi, this production marked the first professional theater piece created and produced in the capital. For the NYUAD community, the production not only marked the beginning of what is to become a thriving Arts and Humanities program, but also allowed a direct interaction between students and the building of a professional theatrical work. It seemed essential that this moment in the history of Abu Dhabi and NYUAD be documented in detail, and it further seemed appropriate that, in the spirit of cross-discipline interaction, this be done by film students at NYUAD. After a lengthy application process two students, April Xiong and Amani Alsaied, were selected to document the production. The result was the fifteen-minute short film, A Journey Through CHAOS.

— Rubén Polendo

A Journey Through CHAOS from Electra Street on Vimeo.


CHAOS was an incredible experience for me. It was my first production in the city, my first professional production, and the first professional production of its kind in Abu Dhabi. As a student, to have the opportunity to engage in work of that level with professional and amazing actors is remarkable. It was a blessing, and more than a year later I still look back on that crazy thing we did with wonder. For me, the play has a special relevance because it explores questions of displacement: departure, unrequited love, living under another person’s system and authority. I resonated with the play when it asked, “What happens to those who leave?”

— Yannick Trapman-O’Brien

The Future is Now

The Future is Now


Enchantment, the apocalypse, documentary or fantasy fiction: these forms often strive to describe human beings’ relationships with Nature – be that magical, terrifying, dreaming of reunification, nostalgic, sorrow-filled or vacuously optimistic. The ways we imagine Nature (with a capital N) in all of those representations is rooted both in Enlightenment values and in Romanticism’s response to them.  We are still driven by the Cartesian separation of mind and body that serves as a lens with which to frame exploitative ventures. And in both reason and fantasy, the monolithic binary of Man vs. Nature remains a useful concept with which to define our selves and our actions.

The poetic response to the Enlightenment – specifically Romanticism – gave us two legacies: one, a sentimental Hallmark Cards rendering of the natural world, and two, the birth of Environmentalism. Both positions maintain that Nature is over there, while we are over here.


As a critical response to this nature/culture divide, I began a body of work in 2006 now gathered under the title Crossing the Waters. The eleven animated pieces addressed flooding and climate change: Weather and water as fact, and weather and water as metaphor. I became interested in the network of relationships at stake between human and non-human animals, plants and the weather, and the network of anecdotes that surround a given site-specific scene or event.

There are several features to these works:

First, almost all of these works are rotoscoped – this is an animation technique of drawing, frame by frame, on top of video.

Second, despite the fact that these works look like unified fields, each one is essentially a collage, cobbled together from disconnected sources. Many of these works have a futuristic or fantastic tone to them, but all of the source material for the rotoscoping was footage found on the internet. The internet can be seen as an interdependent ecosystem in itself – a competing and complementary meme pool. All of the footage I use is “real” in other words, it might resonate for you as something you saw somewhere before, from news or stock footage sites, or on youtube.  As the author William Gibson said, “The future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

Third, nearly all of the elements in the works are composed as loops. Because hand-drawn animation is labor-intensive, using looped character behaviors is efficient; but these loops also possess a distinct stuttering personality that imbues a sense of brokenness, and I think they poke a hole in the rendered surfaces of the landscapes I portray.

Finally, I look at these works as moving paintings more than narrative cartoons. They are reminiscent of Asian wall scrolls, in both their formats and in the way the landscape is moved across the screen.  The works in their entirety are also loops, intended to be lived with ambiently, rather than watched on a schedule, the way you would a film.


The animated, carnivalesque tailgate party of the 18-minute video Slurb loops and stutters like a vinyl record stuck in a groove. Slurb – an architectural slang word that collapses “slum” and “suburb” – encapsulates a dreamy ode to the rise of slime, a watery future in which jellyfish have dominion.

There is a history of satirical illustration, epitomized by J.J.Grandville in the 19th century, in which animal-headed humans are deployed in the telling of troubling social narratives. Slurb is that kind of cartoon. Facts of the ocean’s radical changes in acidity and oxygen levels form the backbone of the animation; overfishing, dumping, and climate change’s heating of ocean currents have already triggered a reversion toward a depleted ecosystem in areas of the ocean larger than the state of Texas.

Slurb was a commission for a site-specific temporary public art work in Tampa, Florida – it premiered in 2009 at an outdoor festival called “Lights on Tampa.”

Tampa — the entire Gulf Coast as you know including New Orleans — is at risk for flooding — for the Gulf, it’s hurricane season. And the volume of these conditions is worsening from climate change. For “Lights on Tampa,” I wanted to make a piece that addressed this, and to create a confluence of facts and speculations that were specific to the Gulf Coast and also global in scope.

The Gulf used to have a healthy shrimp fishing industry. But pollutants, overfishing, and warming have worldwide altered the oceans’ chemical balance, rendering it acid and deprived of oxygen. The result isn’t only a significant decrease in diversity but also a phenomenon referred to as “the rise of slime;” slime consists of toxic algae and jellyfish  — primordial forms that survive well in these conditions.

Trawling boats that used to be fitted for shrimp catches have reconfigured their nets to catch jellyfish for the Asian market, where they are considered a delicacy.

I wanted to transpose class and cultural concerns, and ask questions about who and how we might thrive in new conditions. I started to research and cast my characters … Looking for ways to soften the dismal blow, as it were …

I wanted to make something that had the feeling of Grandville’s satirical illustrations, creating deceptively delightful hybrid creatures…

car-wrecked mermaids …

a macabre Stephen King chorus …

with traces of ethnographic portraiture…

that mined a rich history of  traditionally aquatic lifestyles…

and portrayed contemporary people accustomed to living on the water, like the Intha tribe in Myanmar (known as “the legrowers of Inle Lake”)  whose waterways are now getting too polluted to remain sustainable.  Similar aquatic ways of life exist throughout Asia.

The isolated and unsustainable upper class in Slurb would live in model homes straight out of an optimistic design expo on amphibious living …

… while others appear to be having a tailgate party from hell.

With Slurb I wanted to make a travel narrative, one that unfolded like a Chinese scroll painting, and circled around continuously like a carousel, one that would take you from the city of Tampa, and follow its landmarks out past the broken highways, and into the suburbs, and then back around again.

2009 predated the recent British Petroleum disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. When I made Slurb, there wasn’t the same public upset around the already-transformed state of the oceans. Now the piece is encoded with a very different resonance, regarded as documenting a decimated but survivable future.


Slurb accounts for a complex inter-tangle of people, animals, and the weather. I would characterize this as an expanded definition of Nature.

After several centuries of institutionalizing (and creating a kind of fetishistic mortuary known as) “The Museum of Natural History,” many interdisciplinary efforts are moving us toward viewing our selves and others — equally — as part of a dynamic ecology. One could go further, perceiving us all as a living database that contains a nature/culture network inclusive of genetically modified, opportunistic and invasive species; new migratory behaviors of animals in flux from climate change; and the post-industrial landscape and its weedy colonies; to mention a few filters. The landscapes that I am eager to investigate and describe are shared by humans, animals, plants, machines, and fantastic species, from monsters and fairies to transhumanists and furries. This open redefinition of Nature offers a structural framework in which to methodically – and playfully – tie diverse locales and populations to their inevitable connections with others.

Marina Zurkow is a New York-based artist and a professor in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. This piece is adapted from a lecture given at the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute on 10 October 2010. The video above is excerpt from the short film Slurb ( running time 17 min. 40 sec.), which features music by Lem Jay Ignacio. Click here for more information about the film. You can watch the entire Institute lecture below.



“October” is Part One of a series of short portraits focusing on the uninterrupted, perpetual growth of Abu Dhabi, seen through the slowly evolving perspective of an outsider.

Daniel Carbone is a filmmaker and writer currently living in Abu Dhabi. With a number of award-winning short films behind him, he is currently in production on Phantom Cowboys, a feature-length documentary as director and cinematographer, and Hide Your Smiling Faces, a feature-length narrative as writer and director. He is the Instructor of the Arts at NYU Abu Dhabi, where he facilitates student work in the areas of film, video, and photography, from concept to completion, and is a member of the Electra Street editorial collective.


Iktishaf means “discovery.” Launched in October 2010, the Iktishaf Project is an ongoing collaborative initiative between students at NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) and students Zayed University (ZU) in conjunction with the Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF). Established in 2007, the ADFF has quickly become one of the most alluring juried competitions on the international film circuit. Meanwhile, the creation of the Abu Dhabi Film Commission (ADFC) in 2009 by the Authority for Culture and Heritage launched Abu Dhabi as a major player in global media production and post-production.

This Iktishaf Project presents many opportunities for discovery. NYUAD is in its first year with a global student body, whereas ZU is an established university in the UAE with an almost entirely Emirati student body. The Fall 2010 collaboration with the ADFF offered first-year students at NYUAD who had recently arrived from Australia, Canada, Hungary, Qatar, and the United States an unprecedented opportunity to discover filmmaking and film festivals through creative projects with advanced students from ZU, most of whom call Abu Dhabi, or nearby cities in the UAE like Al Ain, home. Together, students from both universities discovered a side of Abu Dhabi that differed from the ones they know in classrooms, dormitories, and dining halls: they discovered an Abu Dhabi that is an increasingly vibrant site for 21st-century media.


Students from my Language of the Moving Image course at NYUAD and Prof. Nazar Andary’s World Cinemas course at ZU worked together in small teams, collaborating on the development, production, and post-production of a series of seven short videos on subjects that presented a distinctly student perspective on everything related to the festival and filmmaking, including being young filmmakers and cinéphiles in Abu Dhabi.

The students participated in three workshops — preproduction to brainstorm ideas; production to learn to operate cameras, microphones, and tripods; and postproduction to learn the basics on nonlinear editing — with the two professors and Dan Carbone, Instructor of the Arts, and even had the opportunity to solicit feedback from NYUAD’s Associate Dean of the Arts, Mo Ogrodnik, who conceived the partnership with the ADFF.

After the workshops, students received shooting permits from the ADFC and press passes to the ADFF, allowing them to set up their tripods and shoot footage along the Corniche, at the Emirates Palace Hotel, and elsewhere in Abu Dhabi.  They wrote scripts, made storyboards, drafted interview questions, and took to the streets. With the press passes, students received free passes to screenings of films along with behind-the-scenes access to the festival and filmmakers.  The result of the collaboration was a series of seven videos that were posted on the festival’s YouTube channel and promoted on its Facebook pages to generate excitement for the festival. (These sites received hundreds of hits within the first days of being posted.)

The goal of the Iktishaf Project is to provide students with a direct learning experience that draws on their academic coursework on film styles and aesthetics and carries over into their lived experience. The project enables students to  interact with professionals from different institutions within the film industry and to play a role in the development of Abu Dhabi as a key player in the industry, both regionally and globally.  Students in the NYUAD class also participated in ADFF master classes with young filmmakers from Algeria, Belgium, Lebanon, the United States, and the UAE. Several of the interviews featured in the Iktishaf videos were shot after these master classes, which were held in the festival tent at the Emirates Palace Hotel. Students also conducted interviews after screenings of the Emirates and Shorts competitions.

Students from Reel Deal Productions, the NYUAD student film organization, also attended the ADFC Education Day with me, where they were among 200 film students in Abu Dhabi to participate in a scriptwriting workshop, watch a demonstration of a small-crew film shoot (using a only slightly higher model of camera as the students in the Iktishaf Project used for their videos), and listen to representatives from local agencies present information on internships and funding opportunities, including a presentation on the SANAD Film Fund which awarded US$500,000 in support local filmmaking in the region this year. Education Day is part of the ADFC’s Circle Conference to promote Abu Dhabi as a site for world-class professional film and television production.

Iktishaf means “discovery,” and discovery is only the beginning.

Dale Hudson is a Faculty Fellow at NYU Abu Dhabi and a Digital Curator at the Finger Lake Environmental Film Festival.


Click here to go to the official YouTube page for the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.