What was the highlight of your Art History studies?
I still vividly remember something Gervase Rosser told the audience at the departmental open day the year I applied. He said, ‘if it’s visual and it’s interesting, we’ll study it’. This receptiveness to all facets of visual culture, and contexts outside of Western canons of art history, was very exciting to me. I worked on research for my first-year object essay with the late art historian Michael Sullivan, an expert of Chinese art, as I studied a piece in his collection. I was 19, he was 92, and extremely generous with his time and knowledge. Such a formative opportunity only the art history department could have given me.
What is your job/position/occupation today and how did you get there?
Today I am an independent curator and writer based in Beirut, Lebanon. After graduating I was the Von Clemm Postgraduate Fellow at Harvard University, where I specialised in art from the Middle-East, before settling in Lebanon in 2013. Over the last few years my curatorial and written work has pursued my interests in Arabic science fiction, alternative arts pedagogy in the Middle-East and the changing art institutional landscape of Lebanon. I am currently curator of At the Seams, the Palestinian Museum’s first satellite exhibition outside of the West Bank, and author of the book of the same name, on the political history of Palestinian embroidery. This year I am working on projects for the Transart Triennale 2016, Beirut Art Center and Dar el-Nimer – on subjects as diverse as sci-fi, textiles and Arabic calligraphy – and am attending curatorial workshops of the Berlin Biennale and Gwangju Biennial.
How did and do the skills you acquired when studying History of Art support you in your work today?
As an independent curator I am privileged to work both on museum-commissioned exhibitions that require in-depth art historical research, as well as on self-directed curatorial projects which call for creative thinking. While working on an exhibition relating to textiles, I find myself drawing on the material culture and anthropological aspects of my studies at Oxford; when approaching contemporary artistic practice, I return to the grounding the department gave me in histories of exhibition-making, art criticism and Modernism. It is this breadth of study, and the strength of critical thought it instilled in me, that I value most today. The course both challenged me and gave me confidence. It was rigorous, but also required we take risks. It placed emphasis on self-led research in every year of the degree – building skills I have used ever since – as well as on writing, elastic thought, and the articulation of argument. Beyond these skills, the relationships I have maintained with fellow students, younger and older, as well as the tutors and staff, remain extremely important to me. The History of Art department always felt like family; it still does.