Dr Omar Kholeif CF FRSA is an author and curator; a cultural historian and an artist whose ideas come to life in words; exhibitions and collaboration. An experienced and strategic leader in the cultural sector, they currently hold the double-pronged position of Director of Collections and Senior Curator at Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF), Government of Sharjah, UAE. Initially trained as a political scientist, Kholeif’s career began as a writer, researcher and producer of documentaries in the UK broadcast sector. Over the last 15 years, they have been vested in the picture palace of museums and art’s potential to engage with the public sphere. Concerned with the intersection of emerging technologies with narratives of colonialism, ethnicity, race and social justice, Kholeif’s work has focused on marginalised histories of music and performance; expressions of anxiety and mental health; equity and justice, and of course, the image in the digital age.
The curator of numerous exhibitions of art, design and architecture on six continents; they are the author/co-author or editor of over two-dozen books, which have been translated into 12 languages. Widely recognised for their prolific and exploratory output, Kholeif has been called a “Game Changer” by British GQ and has been listed as a 40 under 40 Global Influencer on three different occasions by international cultural magazine, Apollo.
At SAF, Dr Kholeif oversees collection strategy, development and acquisition as well as exhibition programming, delivery and partnerships. Previosly, Kholeif held senior curatorial and leadership posts, including, Manilow Senior Curator and Director of Global Initiatives at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Curator at Whitechapel Gallery, London; Senior Curator at Cornerhouse and HOME, Manchester; Curator at Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT), Liverpool; Head of Art and Technology at SPACE, London and Founding Director, UK Arab Film Festival (now Safar).
Kholeif have served as a Curator for the V—A—C Foundation, Moscow/Venice; co-curated the 14th Sharjah Biennial; the Manchester International Festival; the Cyprus Pavilion, 56th Venice Biennale; the 2015 Armory Show, New York; Abu Dhabi Art, Department of Culture and Tourism (2015-18), International Film Festival Rotterdam (2012-14), as well as the 7th Liverpool Biennial.
Media outlets including, The New York Times, BBC, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, GQ, The Economist, The Art Newspaper, Vice, The New Scientist, among others, have profiled Omar and their work. Kholeif has also been recognized for their scholarship, with awards from the Graham Foundation and Creative Capital | The Andy Warhol Foundation.
A professor of fine art, art history and the politics of visual culture, they have held research and teaching positions at the University of Chicago; Hunter College, City University of New York; Northwestern University, Evanston, IL and the University of Oxford. Kholeif is a member/fellow of organizations including, the RSA; WCMT; ICOM; CIMAM; AICA USA; IBA; ACASA; AMCA; CAA; AAH and MESA. They sit on the College Art Association (CAA) committee for the Art Journal Award for Distinction.
A critical advocate and spokesperson on inclusion strategies, Kholeif advises a number of organisations on their access and inclusion policies. Kholeif is a Trustee of SPACE, London, where they are Chair of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion; an Ambassador for Mental Health Research UK and Global Ambassador for the Leslie Lohman Museum, New York. Their forthcoming titles include, Internet/Art: From the World Wide Web to the Rise of NFTs (Phaidon, 2023) and Code-Switchers: The Art of Being Invisible (forthcoming, 2024). Kholeif is the founder of the equitable curatorial engine and merchandise label, the Center of Cultural Confusion; Curator of the 1-54 Forum on Contemporary African Art, and co-founder of the broadcast and commissioning platform, www.artpost21.com.