Alumni Take Part in Panel Discussion in Venice

June 11, 2024
Venice Group Photo

The panel explored the power of art in shaping and experiencing the notion of home and cultural identity

The panel, which took place on the sidelines of the Venice Art Biennale 2024, explored the power of art in shaping and experiencing the notion of home and cultural identity

Alumni from VCUarts Qatar were part of a panel discussion held at the Biblioteca Marciana, Museo Correr, in Venice, recently.

The panel discussion, titled ‘A Home Anew – Art as a Refuge; The Contemporary Creative Scene in Qatar’, was organized by Art for Tomorrow 2024 on the sidelines of the Venice Art Biennale 2024. The theme aligns with the Biennale’s theme of ‘Foreigners Everywhere’.

VCUarts Qatar alumni Othman Khunji, Sara Mohammad Al-Shafai and Majdulin Nasrallah were the panelists in the discussion. The conversation was moderated by Hesperia Iliadou Suppiej, Ph.D., Director of the Museums and Exhibitions Study Society in Venice. Illiadou also curated VCUarts Qatar’s 25th-anniversary alumni exhibition, ‘this Sand is made of Stars/this Sea is made of Pearls’ held last year. The discussion was hosted by VCUarts Qatar, with the University’s Dean, Amir Berbić, welcoming the gathering.

The panel explored the power of art in shaping and experiencing the notion of home and cultural identity.  The discussion was an extension of the work presented during VCUarts Qatar’s 25th anniversary alumni exhibition which highlighted the importance of the past in shaping the future, focusing on elements of Qatar’s unique landscape and heritage.

Othman Khunji, an MFA in Design alumnus, said it was an opportunity to share the stories behind some of his well-known installations at the discussion in Venice.

He said, “Since 1998, VCUarts Qatar has been a potent movement shaping the creative industry in Qatar and the wider Arab region, from kicking-starting my career with my thesis collection being acquired by Her Excellency Sheikha Al-Mayassa Al-Thani to currently being a proud alum who’s an award-winning artist and faculty member playing his part in nurturing the future of Arab artists.”

Sara Al-Shafai, a VCUarts Qatar Art History graduate who currently works at the National Museum of Qatar, said, “Much like the alumni exhibition held last year, this panel discussion acts as a platform that encourages cooperation and active dialogue amongst creatives and art enthusiasts. It is a symbol that demonstrates the progressive and dynamic character of the contemporary art and cultural scene, especially in Qatar.”

Suppiej observed how the panel discussed the notion of cultural identity and the importance of art in times of crisis in the context of Qatar’s creative landscape.

She said, “It was a pleasure to moderate a discussion that brought together three exceptional VCUarts Qatar alumni, Othman Khunji, Majdullin Nasrallah and Sarah Al-Shafai, to discuss the importance of the creative contemporary scene in Qatar and the role of the University in shaping it. The theme was in line with this year’s Venice Biennale and tackles the notions of cultural identity and the importance of art in times of crisis.

She added, “The panel discussion took place in a place steeped in history, the breathtaking Sansovino room in the Marciana Library which is part of the Palazzo Correr Museum at San Marco Square in Venice.”

Othman Khunji is an interdisciplinary conceptual artist whose work ranges across product and interactive installation design. His creations, inviting a reawakening and exploration of social justice issues, have been showcased in prominent venues and exhibitions in Paris, Milan, London, Berlin, St. Petersburg, and the Middle East. Othman is also a VCU 10 Under 10 Award-winning artist and has worked with local and international organizations such as Studio Banana, Virginia Commonwealth University, Brown University, Kings College of London, and Qatar Museums.

Sara Mohammed Al-Shafai is an art enthusiast and proponent of creative growth. She is particularly interested in studying the role of language, art and culture in forming individual and collective identities. She is also curious about theories in social science, particularly in relation to human communication and creative expression. Al-Shafai uses archival research and active collaboration with the community to research the historical and social factors that define the national identity.

Majdulin Nasrallah is an interdisciplinary designer holding a Master of Fine Arts in Design and a BFA in Interior Design from VCUarts Qatar. Her work, both poetic and political, explores the relationship between the human experience and the built environment on both a personal and universal scale. Nasrallah’s work has been showcased at several venues across Doha, and internationally at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto, Canada (2022), Manege Central Exhibition Hall, St. Petersburg, Russia (2018), the Anderson Gallery, Richmond, Virginia (2018), Kraftwerk, Berlin, Germany (2017).

Award-winning curator Dr. Hesperia Illiadou Suppiej curated the Malta National Pavilion at the 2019 Venice Art Biennale and the Inaugural Exhibition for the European Capital of Culture in 2017. She has been acting Commissioner for the Venice Biennale since 2014 and has taught in numerous international academic institutions. Her research focuses on social engagement practices and community participation in museums and the curatorial process of co-creating exhibitions. She lives and works in Italy and currently teaches the MA in Curatorial Practice program in Florence. She collaborates with Qatar Museums to develop training programs in curation and museology.