Khemir, Sabiha (1959–)
Sabiha Khemir is a Tunisian painter, illustrator, writer, and curator and historian of Islamic art.
Khemir was born in Tunisia in 1959. She received a B.A. in English literature from the University of Tunis in 1983. Thereafter she moved to Great Britain for graduate studies, earning both an M.A. (1986) and a Ph.D. (1990) in the history of Islamic art and archaeology from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. Starting in 2001 she became tutor of the Islamic art module at the British Museum. Khemir currently is chief curator at the Islamic Art Museum in Doha, Qatar.
INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS
Most of Khemir's works are highly detailed pieces, executed in pen and ink, and often explore legendary figures and events from Islamic history. They appear on the covers of some important translations of Arabic novels, especially by naguib mahfouz and Alifa Rifaat. She has fully illustrated works such as Le Nuage Amoureux (1979) and The Island of Animals (1994). Khemir has described her illustrations as rooted in the history of Islamic book illustration, especially miniatures. She sees the simplicity, purity, and precision of black-and-white pointillism as reflecting the ethos of Islamic art. Like many Arab artists of her generation, Khemir re-creates the past treasures of art from her part of the world as a way to transform the present. In her essay "Mobile Identity and the Focal Distance of Memory," she described this practice as an attempt to "animate our present reality with the timeless values of our civilization" (2001, p. 46). In this essay and others, Khemir writes about issues of identity, history, and memory in the Arab world and the Arab diaspora, drawing on her personal experience.
An expert in Islamic art history, Khemir wrote and presented two documentaries on Islamic art for British television. She also served as a consultant for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for the major exhibition "Al-Andalus: Islamic Arts of Spain" in 1992, and has written Figures and Figurines: Sculptures of the Islamic Lands (1998). She published her first novel, Waiting in the Future for the Past to Come, in 1993.
THE WORLD'S PERSPECTIVE
Khemir is respected internationally for her art. She has participated in group exhibitions in a number of venues and countries, including shows such as "Forces of Change: Artists of the Arab World" at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C. (1994); the Kufa Gallery, London (1993); "Arab Women in the United Kingdom" at the Kufa Gallery (1988); "The Book Cover" at the Kufa Gallery (1987); the Islamic Centre, London (1986), and the Centre National d'Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou (Beaubourg), Paris (1980). Her expertise in Islamic art history is reflected in the fact that she was chosen to be chief curator at the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar. When completed, the museum will be one of the finest museums of Islamic art in the world, and will contain the many treasures collected over the years by Qatar's Shaykh sa'ud bin muhammad bin ali al thani, once described as the biggest art purchaser in the world.
Sabiha Khemir is still at work in her various fields, and the world is not yet ready to draw its final conclusions as to her historical legacy.
Name: Sabiha Khemir
Birth: 1959, Tunisia
Education: B.A. (English literature), University of Tunis, 1983; M.A. (1986) and Ph.D. (1990) in the history of Islamic art and archaeology, School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London
- 1979: Illustrates Le Nuage Amoureux
- 1980: Takes part in exhibition at the Centre National d'Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou (Beaubourg), Paris
- 1992: Consultant for "Al-Andalus: Islamic Arts of Spain" exhibition, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
- 1993: Publishes Waiting in the Future for the Past to Come
- 1994: Illustrates The Island of Animals; takes part in "Forces of Change: Artists of the Arab World" exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.
- 1998: Publishes Figures and Figurines: Sculptures of the Islamic Lands
Khemir, Sabiha. "Mobile Identity and the Focal Distance of Memory." In Displacement and Difference: Contemporary Arab Visual Culture in the Diaspora, edited by Fran Lloyd. London: Saffron Books, 2001.
Lloyd, Fran, ed. Contemporary Arab Women's Art: Dialogues of the Present. London: Women's Art Library, 1999.
updated by Michael R. Fischbach