SAF appoints Omar Kholeif


The Sharjah Art Foundation announced today that Omar Kholeif has been named director of collections and senior curator. He will be charged with overseeing the foundation’s acquisition strategy, developing exhibitions and other programming, and securing international partnerships. He will also work closely with Hoor Al Qasimi, the president and director of the foundation, to help the organization open its new building, the Jurainah Art Space, which will house its collection of over one thousand works of twentieth-century and contemporary art.

The arts space aims to serve as a gathering place where the local community can engage with international artists, researchers, and visitors to Sharjah. It will also be home to an archive documenting every edition of the Sharjah Biennial from 1993 to the present, multipurpose rooms, a bookstore, a restaurant, and a café, and will be free to the public. Designed by architect Mona El Mousfy, the building is expected to open in 2022.

“Sharjah Art Foundation—first through the Sharjah Biennial and now through a year-round series of exhibitions and programs—has been both a vital international advocate for contemporary artists from the region and a convener that has brought important artists from around the world to Sharjah for more than a decade,” Al Qasimi said. “The appointment of Dr. Omar Kholeif and the development of Jurainah Arts Space together demonstrate the continuity of this work.”

Prior to joining SAF, Kholeif was senior curator and director of global initiatives at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Born in Cairo but raised in Jeddah, Kholeif 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 also worked as head of art and technology at Space in London and was a senior curator at Cornerhouse and HOME in Manchester as well as a curator at FACT in Liverpool.

This year, Kholeif was one of three curators behind the 2019 edition of the Sharjah biennial. The overall biennial was titled Leaving the Echo Chamber and within it, Kholeif’s presentation was called Making New Time. It contained a thoughtful presentation of artists from the past and present to comment on the current condition. With many ties in the UAE, he also been involved over the past two years with Abu Dhabi Art, where he curates one of the “Beyond” sections. He told The National that taking the full time role in Sharjah is a kind of “homecoming” for him.