Sara Raza is an award winning international art curator and writer based in New York City where she directs the curatorial studio Punk Orientalism and is a member of the faculty at the School of Visual Arts for the MA Curatorial Practice Program and New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Graduate Program. In 2020 she was appointed associate director for Hawai’i Contemporary (formerly the Honolulu Biennial Foundation) and works between the continental US, Hawaii, Asia Pacific and Middle East. She is a specialist on global curatorial knowledge, with an academic and professional interest in performance based practice and architectural art history pertaining to the fluid territories of Central Asia, Caucasus and the Middle East and North Africa. Between 2015-18 she was the Guggenheim UBS MAP Curator, Middle East and North Africa based at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, where she led the third and final phase of the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative established the MENA collection and curated the exhibition But a Storm Is Blowing from Paradise: Contemporay 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 she earned her MA in Art History and 20th Century Theory and BA (hons) in English Literature and History of Art both from Goldsmiths College, University of London, and pursued studies towards a Ph.D. at the Royal College of Art, London. She is a recognized cultural thought leader and 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 awardeed of the Arts Council of England’s Emerging Curatorial Award (2004). She has also been cited as 1 of 40 most influential global arts thinkers under the age of 40 (Deutsche Bank/Apollo (2017), a noted 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 listed as one of 25 Female Curators Shaking Things Up from New York to Munich and Mumbai by Artnet (2015). Sara and her work have been featured in major arts and national press including Artforum, Art Africa, Artnet, ArtAsiaPacicic, BBC, Brownbook, Canvas, Contemporary Practices, Cultured, CNN Style, Harper’s Bazaar, Financial Times, 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, and museums including Collateral Events 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). Raza has also organized exhibitions at institutions including the Maraya Art Centre, where she served as curator from 2011-2014 and commissioned and curated solo exhibitions by Adel Abidin and Mohamed Kazem and inaugurated the Maraya Art Park with a permanent commissioned by Wafaa Bilal, as well as organizing group exhibitions Migrasophia and The Beginning of Thinking is Geometric. In 2018 she curated the thematic post-humous solo show Fateh Al Moudarres: Colour, Extensity and Sense for Mathaf Modern Arab Art Museum, Doha, Qatar, and the major touring exhibition Punk Orientalism at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. In 2019 she was selected as the first guest curator for the Rubin Museum of Art’s Year of Power and organized the exhibition Clapping with Stones: Art and Acts of Resistance.
Sara has lectured and participated in panels internationally at Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe, Germany (2004); Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island; San Jose State University; and Bishkek Historical Museum, Kyrgyzstan (all 2005); Queen Mary University and Westminster University (both London, 2006); Sharjah Biennial, United Arab Emirates (2009); Intelligence Squared, United Kingdom, London (2010); the State Museum of History of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, Uzbekistan (both 2011); Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London (2011–13); Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (2012); Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, and American University of Sharjah (both 2013); Casa Arabe, Madrid (2014); Davis Museum at Wellesley College, Boston; and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (both 2015), The Phillips Collection, Washington, University of Sydney, Australia, the New Museum, New York and New York University (all 2016), The Whitney Museum of American Art, MacKenzie Art Gallery (2017), Duke University and Nasher Museum, John F Kennedy Center, Washington and NABA University, Milan (2018), Princeton University, New York School of Visual Arts, New York, New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, ING Creatives Dubai, & Artworld Conference at the New York Law School (all 2019).
Formerly, she was the head of education at YARAT Contemporary Art Space, Baku, Azerbaijan, Founding Head of Curatorial Programs at Alaan Artspace, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and curator of public programs at Tate Modern, London (2006–8). She was an educational advisor to Edge of Arabia’s CULTURUNNERS US tour (2013–14), She was previously an artist adviser for ISCP in New York (2015-18) and founded and directed the education and artists’ mentoring program for Mana Contemporary (2017-19), and Served as a jury member for the 2017 Vilcek Foundation (2016) and the 2014 Akbank Contemporary Artists Prize, for which she also curated the shortlist exhibition (2014).
Sara has contributed to numerous books, artist monographs and art publications internationally, and is the longstanding desk editor for West and Central Asia for ArtAsiaPacific magazine. She is the author of the forthcoming Punk Orientalism, which will be published in winter 2021 with black dog press London. Sara is a member of the ICP’s (International Center of Photography) international advisory council and an advisor to the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ.