Mohammad Omar Khalil (b. 1936), a painter, master printmaker and mentor, practicing since the 1960s, is one of the most significant artists of his generation from Sudan and the Arab world. A long overdue celebration of his life’s work, Homeland Under My Nails, is the first major UK solo exhibition of his work.
The exhibition opens with a series of self-portraits, a practice that Khalil, now 83, has long experimented with as a means of self-transformation – an exploration of time in his own image. One of his earliest self-portraits, from 1968, at only 2cm by 2cm challenges the very nature of the form and medium.
The exhibition then looks at the international sensibility of the artist, who has lived and worked in New York since the 1970s, trained in Sudan and Italy, and has continued to move between the US and North Africa. These works are displayed alongside early works and archival materials from the artist’s studio.In the lower gallery a series of semi-abstract and abstract etchings explore his relationship with sound. Sound occupies Khalil’s consciousness and is translated visually through his prints. Panels of deep black surround photo-etched forms, with pattern and freeform textural entities floating over a light ground to create a sense of intricacy and depth. Many of his artworks present translations of music that has moved him. He says, “Only engraving and its technical delicacy can express these sounds within me.”
Black is predominant in these works, chosen by Khalil for its elemental quality. In describing his motherland Sudan he states: “It has no colour!”. Both emotional and philosophical in nature, his relationship to black exists in his explorations into the materiality of light.
Sudan continues to be a point of orientation for the artist. Khalil was never an artist isolated in exile nor has he ever forgotten his identity or motherland, saying “My homeland exists in my nails, it expresses itself whenever I create an artwork.”.
Mohammad Omar Khalil’s work is significant to the Arab modernist movement and to the history of International Modernism. His work moves across continents, seeking connections, drawing together influences from North Africa, most significantly for the artist from Sudan, and Morocco, (where he returned annually over three decades for the annual Asilah Festival) and from the European canon. The exhibition offers the opportunity to encounter the practice of this modernist artist whose drive to create continues today.
Homeland Under My Nails is curated by Abed AlKadiri with The Mosaic Rooms. A special series of events, including a conversation with the artist, will accompany the exhibition.
About Mohammad Omar Khalil
Born in 1936 in a village near Khartoum, Mohammad Omar Khalil studied at the School of Fine and Applied Arts in the Sudanese capital, alongside members of what is now termed the Khartoum School. Graduating in 1959 he was appointed Head of Painting at the school before moving to Florence in 1963 to study frescoes and mosaics at the Academy of Fine Arts, Florence and later, Ravenna. From Italy Omar Khalil moved to New York where he was to stay, and still works today. Recent solo exhibitions: You Don’t have to Be, Aicon Gallery, New York (2019), Mohammad Omar Khalil, 50 Years of Printmaking, Contemporary Art Platform Kuwait (2014). Group exhibitions: Art Sudan, Meem Gallery, Dubai (2011).
Image: Mohammad Omar Khalil, Sacrifice, 1975, etching, aquatint, scraping.
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