Sara Raza is an award winning curator and writer based in New York City where she maintains the curatorial studio practice Punk Orientalism. 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, Caucuses and the Middle East and North Africa. Most recently 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 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 recognized as a cultural thought leader and is the recipient of several awards and honors including the winner of the 11th ArtTable New Leadership Award for Women in the Arts (2016), finalist for the Walther Hopps Curatorial Award (2015) and the Arts Council of England’s Curatorial Fellowship awardee (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), and profiled as 1 of 5 leading curators from the Middle East and North Africa by Canvas (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). As of 2020 Sara is a faculty member of the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York for the Curtorial Practice, Master of Arts Program.
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) and a jury member for the 2017 Vilcek Foundation and New York Culture (2016) and previously the 2014 Akbank Contemporary Artists Prize, for which she also curated the shortlist exhibition (2014).
Sara writes for numerous artist books and publications and is the longstanding desk editor for West and Central Asia for ArtAsiaPacific magazine. She was previously an artist adviser for ISCP in New York (2015-18) and directed the education and mentorship program for artists for Mana Contemporary’s (2017-19). She is the author of Punk Orientalism, which will be published in 2020 with black dog press in London.