Sara Raza is an award winning contemporary art curator and writer based in New York City where she founded the global visual cultures curatorial studio Punk Orientalism through which she works on exhibitions, education projects and publications in Central Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, creating an important cultural bridge with the US. Sara is the 2021-22 recipient of the Red Burns Fellowship awarded by the New York University’s Tisch School of the Art’s Interactive Telecommunications Program for distinguished researchers and scholars, and teaches on the Masters program. In 2021 she was selected to direct the first Masters in Museum Studies in Central Asia by the Art and Culture Development Foundation, under the Ministry of Culture of Uzbekistan, for the Silk Road International University in Samarkand, Uzbekistan and is responsible for directing the curriculum. Sara is a specialist on contemporary global curatorial knowledge and 21st century museum collecting practices, and has an academic and professional interest in performance and performativity, architectural art history, and the intersection of art, the ancient thinking sciences, and emergent technologies. Between 2015-18 she was the Guggenheim UBS MAP Curator, Middle East and North Africa based at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, where she was selected by an esteemed group of global experts to lead the third and final phase of the multi-award winning Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative. At the Guggenheim Sara established the MENA collection which culminated in the critically acclaimed exhibition But a Storm Is Blowing from Paradise: Contemporary Art of the Middle East and North Africa, which debuted in New York (April-October 2016) and traveled to the Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Milan (April-June 2018).
Born in 1979 London, UK, Sara is of Persian, Central Asian, and Ottoman heritage, and belongs to a historical intellectual family of academics, economists, engineers, law makers/ military strategists (anti-imperial), mathematicians, scientists and surveyors (archaeological), and has lived and traveled extensively in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East since early childhood. Sara pursued studies towards her Ph.D (ABD) at the Royal College of Art, London, where her research focused on Post-Soviet Orientalism under the supervision of distinguished film and moving image theorist Professor Mark Nash (2012-14), and earned her MA in 20th Century Art History, Theory and Philosophy (2003), and received a joint BA (honors) in English Literature and History of Art both from Goldsmiths College, University of London (2001). In 2020 she was appointed to the International Center of Photography (ICP) international advisory council bringing her global perspective to the renowned museum and school and is a former Fellow of the International Curator’s Forum, (ICF) UK (2017-18) for curators and scholars from the UK.
A recognized cultural thought leader Sara is the recipient of several awards and honors for her work including the 11th ArtTable New Leadership Award for Women in the Arts (2016), finalist for the Walther Hopps Curatorial Award (2015) and the awardee of the Arts Council of England’s Emerging Curatorial Award (2004) among others. She has been honored as 1 of 40 influential global arts thinkers under the age of 40 (Deutsche Bank/Apollo (2017), a leading visual cultural expert on post-Soviet Central Asia and the Caucasus (Culture Trip 2016), profiled as 1 of 5 leading curators from the Middle East and North Africa by Canvas (2015) and credited as one of 25 international female curators shaking things up from New York to Munich and Mumbai by Artnet (2015). Sara and her work has been featured in major arts and national press including Artforum, Art Africa, Artnet, Arab News, ArtAsiaPacific, BBC, Brownbook, Canvas, Contemporary Practices, Cultured, CNN Style, Harper’s Bazaar, Financial Times, L’Officiel, Al Jazeera, Marie Claire, The National UAE, The New York Times, The Observer, Wall Street International and many others.
Sara has curated several international exhibitions and projects for biennials, festivals, galleries and museums including the 3rd Baku Public Art Festival ‘A Drop of Sky’ (2015), ‘Rhizoma: Saudi Arabia’s Generation in Waiting’ at the 55th Venice Biennale (2013); Ergin Cavusoglu’s Middle Eastern debut exhibition at The Pavilion Downtown Dubai (2011); the Central Asian Salon for the 6th Tashkent Biennial at the Art Gallery of Uzbekistan (2011); Shezad Dawood’s first North American solo exhibition at the Plug In ICA, Winnipeg (2010); Practices of Everyday Life, New Image Making in the Middle East and Cult of Personality: Erbossyn Meldibekov and Sophia Tabatadze at ShContemporary, Shanghai (both 2008); and the 2nd Bishkek International: In the Shadow of Fallen Heroes at the Bishkek Historical Museum and Alto Square, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (2005). Sara has also organized exhibitions at institutions including the Maraya Art Centre, Sharjah, UAE, where she served as curator from 2011-2014 and commissioned and curated solo exhibitions by Adel Abidin and Mohamed Kazem, as well as organizing group exhibitions Migrasophia and The Beginning of Thinking is Geometric, and inaugurated the Maraya Art Park with a permanent art and science sculpture commission by Wafaa Bilal. In 2018 she curated the thematic post-humous solo show of leading Syrian artist Fateh Al Moudarres: Color, Extensity and Sense for Mathaf Modern Arab Art Museum, Doha, Qatar, and the multi chapter exhibition project Punk Orientalism at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, which featured work by Babi Badalov, Ali Cherri, Inci Eviner, Aikaterini Gegisian, Rokni Haerizadeh, Taus Makhacheva, Slavs and Tatars, and others. In 2019 she was selected as the first contemporary art guest curator for the Rubin Museum of Art’s Year of Power and organized the group exhibition Clapping with Stones: Art and Acts of Resistance, which included the work of Lida Abdul, Kimsooja, Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Nari Ward, Hank Willis Thomas, Shahpour Pouyan, Pallavi Paul and others.
Sara has lectured and participated in panels and discussions internationally including the Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe, Germany; Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island; San Jose State University; Bishkek Historical Museum, Kyrgyzstan; Queen Mary University, Westminster University; Sharjah Biennial March Meeting, United Arab Emirates; Intelligence Squared, United Kingdom, London; the State Museum of History of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, Uzbekistan; Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London; Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, American University of Sharjah; Casa Arabe, Madrid; Davis Museum at Wellesley College, Boston; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Phillips Collection, Washington, University of Sydney, Australia, the New Museum, New York, New York University, The Whitney Museum of American Art, MacKenzie Art Gallery, Duke University and Nasher Museum, John F Kennedy Center, Washington, Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti, Milan , Princeton University, New York School of Visual Arts, New York, New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, ING Creatives Dubai, New York Law School, and Yale University among others. From 2020-21 she was a member of the faculty of the School of Visual Arts, New York for the Masters in Curatorial Practices (on sabbatical in 2022) and was previously an adjunct faculty member for the Sotheby’s Masters in Contemporary Art London (2011-13).
Formerly, Sara was the head of education and curator of the 3rd Baku Public Art Festival for YARAT Contemporary Art Space, Baku, Azerbaijan (2014-15), founding head of curatorial programs at Alaan Artspace, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (2011-13), curator of public programs at Tate Modern, London (2006–8) and assistant curator at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2005). She was an educational advisor to Edge of Arabia’s CULTURUNNERS US tour (2013–14), as well as an artist adviser for ISCP in New York (2015-18) and designed and consulted for the artists’ mentoring program at Mana Contemporary for the New Jersey, Miami and Chicago campuses (2017-19), she also served as an advisor to the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ (2020) and was a consultant director for Hawaii Contemporary Triennial (2020-21). She has also participated as a jury member for the 2020-21 AHL Korean Contemporary Art Prize, 2020 Creative Time Award, 2017 Vilcek Foundation Art Prize, and the 2014 Akbank Contemporary Artists Prize, for which she also curated the shortlist exhibition. She is currently a member of the scientific committee for the San Diego Museum of Art’s 2024 exhibition Wonders of Creation: Art, Science, and Innovation in the Islamic World.
Sara has been an arts writer since 2002 and is the longstanding desk editor for West and Central Asia for ArtAsiaPacific magazine since 2004, and has written over 200 texts for numerous art journals, books, exhibition catalogues, and peer reviewed academic periodicals, with her writing translated into Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish. She has written several long-form art historical essays for artist monographs, which include Jeffrey Gibson (Denver Museum of Art), Inci Eviner (Istanbul Modern Museum), Diana Al-Hadid (New York University Press/ Skira), Lida Abdul (Frac Lorraine, 51st Venice Biennial & the Banff Centre), Reza Aramesh (The Collectors’ Edition Dubai), Farhad Ahrania (Rose Issa Projects), Nadia Kaabi-Linke (KunstMuseum Bonn/ Kerber), Asad Faulwell (Zero), Fateh Al-Moudarres (Mathaf Modern Museum of Arab Art) and Shahzia Sikander (Tufts University), among others. She is the author of the forthcoming Punk Orientalism, which will be published in spring 2022 with black dog press London.