Omar Kholeif has been announced as director of collections and senior curator at the Sharjah Art Foundation, a new role for the organisation that underlines its growing focus on year-round programming and the display of its permanent collection. In 2022 the foundation is expected to open the Jurainah Art Space, a new display site for its collection of more than one-thousand works, predominantly of contemporary Arab art.
Kholeif is a well-known curator in the region and specifically at the Sharjah Art Foundation, where he was one of three curators behind this year’s biennial, “Beyond the Echo Chamber”. He has also been involved over the past two years with Abu Dhabi Art, where he curates one of the “Beyond” sections.
"Working at the Sharjah Art Foundation is kind of like a homecoming," he tells The National. "I have been working in the region and in the UAE for the last decade, most recently as co-curator of the Sharjah Biennial, which was a wonderful experience. I was particularly struck by the foundation's commitment to artists, which is paramount and rare."
The curator was born in Cairo and grew up in Jeddah, and has been based mostly out of London for his professional life. While at the Whitechapel Gallery in London he curated the year-long exhibition of the Barjeel Art Foundation’s works, in 2015–16, which introduced key works of Arab modernism to UK public. He was subsequently a senior curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, where he again worked to give new opportunities to Arab artists. There he helped set up a fellowship for an emerging Arab curator, and initiated a show of works from the MENASA region. After leaving the MCA, he pursued freelance projects such as an exhibition with the V-A-C Foundation on the subject of digital technology, another of his key interests.
At the Sharjah Art Foundation, he will oversee the organisation’s acquisition strategy, work on exhibitions, symposia and events, and develop international partnerships.
Over the past decade the Sharjah Art Foundation has pivoted from the every-other-year rhythm of the biennial to year-round exhibitions, and has begun to show its substantial permanent collection. While previously works from the collection were frequently loaned out abroad, the holdings have in the last few years emerged in Sharjah programming, such as "Active Forms," curated by deputy director Reem Shadid in 2018. With the new Jurainah Art Space the foundation will have a permanent display for its collection and its archive of Sharjah Biennial's editions, from 1993 to the present. The space will be designed by Mona El Mousfy, the long-time architectural consultant for the foundation.
“What I love about Sharjah Art Foundation is the collaborative spirit of the team and Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi's commitment to transforming the whole Emirate through art,” Kholeif says. “I want to work in a place where I can create sustained and effectual change and I believe that in this newly created role I have the opportunity to consolidate and bring to life one of the region's most important art collections, whilst also organising exhibitions, symposia and publications that will push the boundaries of what contemporary art can be.”