Sara Raza’s Guggenheim post turns the focus on regional art

The newly selected curator for the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative, Sara Raza, shares her thoughts on her new appointment.

“This is the culmination of more than 10 years of work, so I’m really excited,” says Sara Raza over the phone from London. Raza, who was just about to leave for Jeddah Art Week when we spoke, has been announced as the third and final curator for the Guggenheim’s UBS MAP Global Art Initiative.

Under this role, she will handle a budget for acquiring new works for the permanent Guggenheim collection from artists in the wider Middle East and North African region. It’s something she describes as a dream come true.

“This is what I have always wanted to do. Although I was born in the UK and have lived in the West, my family is Persian so there is a strong connection there and for me to be able to change a little bit of history of a collection and contextualise these works for future generations is a dream position.”

Based in London, Raza has already had quite an impact on the regional art scene. She was associate curator at Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah between 2012 and 2014; she was the founding head of curatorial programmes at Alaan Artspace in Riyadh and has curated numerous international exhibitions pertaining to Middle Eastern art.

Raza's areas of academic interest are Central Asia and the Caucasus and she has studied visual cultural geography as well as ideas about migration and science. She is currently the desk editor for West and Central Asia for ArtAsiaPacific magazine and the head of education and public programmes and curator of the forthcoming Public Art Festival organised by Yarat Contemporary Art Space to coincide with the 1st European Games in June in Baku, Azerbaijan.

For the UBS MAP Global Art initiative, Raza has begun a two-year residency with the Guggenheim, identifying and acquiring recent works by artists of Middle Eastern and North African origin that will enter the permanent collection and form the basis of an exhibition in 2016 and subsequently travel to the region.

“As western collections are predominantly Euro-American centric, this is so attractive to me – to be able to have a hand in shifting that and it fits so well with my own research interests. It is all about being able to change the perception and to contribute to the collection and to create that dialogue for the region.”

Raza will spend the next six months conducting research before permanently settling in New York to take up her position.

During the residency she will also work closely with the education staff at the Guggenheim to put together a programme of talks, workshops, and events related to the exhibition as well as extra content such as radio interviews, snapshots of artist-studio visits and online debates.

“I have a public programmes background so I am very much interested in engaging audiences in this way, too,” she says.