Fatema Al Fardan & Sara Pan Algarra: Reflections on Winning The 2020 Zachary Doss Friends in Letters Memorial Fellowship

Ryan Bollenbach here. Heavy Feather Review is publishing short pieces on the blog from writers who have collaborated on previous projects in order to give potential collaborators ideas and stoke excitement for The Zachary Doss Friends in Letters Memorial Fellowship (collaboration itself being the biggest takeaway I hope to create from all this). Please read about my late friend Zach and consider creating work for the fellowship. After May 31, I will award $50 to four pairs of writers who have collaborated, winning praise from friends of Zach, Tasha Coryell and Brian Oliu—and myself. The friends’/comrades’ work will appear in print in HFR Vol. 12.

Below is Fatema Al Fardan & Sara Pan Algarra’s joint reflection on winning 2020’s fellowship.

Fatema Al Fardan & Sara Pan Algarra met in an experimental university called New York University Abu Dhabi, based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Fatema, originally from Dubai, UAE, drove one hour to make it to her first day of college. Sara, originally from Caracas, Venezuela, flew 24 hours. Their worlds collided through a trip organized by a mutual friend. They got to know each other through a one-week trip to Sri Lanka that Sara slept through. Their friendship continues to grow, but it mostly developed after they lived together in Abu Dhabi during their last year of university.




Our piece for The Zachary Doss Friends in Letters Memorial Fellowship was titled Artist Guidebook to Pandemia (2020). We made it online at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown in the United Arab Emirates. We were roommates before the pandemic started and once it started Fatema moved to her family home, so we lived apart for the rest of the semester. This fellowship was an opportunity to make art together virtually to reflect upon our daily thoughts during the lockdown. The piece contains some of these reflections. We were interested in using words from our mother tongues (Arabic and Spanish) and our common tongue (English). We explored bridges between words (verbal mental maps), and used colors and lines to map the effects of the lockdown on our various lives. Once the pandemic started, we tried to continue with our responsibilities, as students, interns, rising scholars, artists, and in many instances, COVID-19 felt like an “elephant in the room.” Something we were both experiencing, and yet, trying to avoid. It was obvious that we could not. We have learned over the months to embrace its challenges and acknowledge that the pandemic is happening, and indeed, changing our ways of living and communicating. We have learned to live with the loss and collective mourning. Developing this project during the pandemic allowed us to reestablish our friendship without the physical presence of each other. Although at moments, time felt excruciatingly slow, time breezed by, and we are no longer in the same country. The prize money we received upon this fellowship is now in our savings waiting for our next reunion. We are clueless about where and when this will be, but we hope it will happen soon. 

—Fatema Al Fardan & Sara Pan Algarra


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Image: Artist Guidebook to Pandemia excerpt by Fatema Al Fardan & Sara Pan Algarra

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