Meet a General: Isra El-Beshir Isra El-Beshir, associate director of museums, is helping develop, coordinate and execute the strategic plan for the Museums of W&L.
“Keep Watson Galleries and Reeves Museum in mind for experiences you won’t find in town. Both spaces are beautiful and perfect for a mental break and a gallery stroll.”
~ Isra El-Beshir
Q: Where did you grow up?
My early formative years were spent in Columbia, Missouri, where I was born and raised. The last six years of my teenage years were spent in Kansas City, Missouri; Wichita, Kansas; and Dearborn, Michigan.
Q: How long have you worked at W&L?
Closing in on nine months. Before joining W&L, I was a development consultant for Obsidian: Literature and Arts in the African Diaspora (an academic journal), founding director of Illinois Art Station, and curator of education and public programming at the Arab American National Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate.
Q: What does your job here entail?
I oversee the administrative management of the Museums of W&L, which includes developing, coordinating and executing its strategic plan. My goal is to support museum staff in (1) revitalizing and transforming our divisions and, in particular, the Reeves Museum of Ceramics and Watson Galleries, into more immersive, inclusive and exciting spaces for learning and engagement; (2) fully actualizing and advancing our mission; and (3) increasing our visibility on and off campus.
Q: What do you like best about working at W&L so far?
I find the intellectual rigor, virtual programming and specialization among faculty to be incredibly inspiring. I am also impressed by the warm and friendly personalities at W&L.
Q: Is there anything about your job or department that you wish more people in the W&L community knew?
We exist and we’re also up the hill across from the Admissions Office! Keep Watson Galleries and Reeves Museum in mind for experiences you won’t find in town. Both spaces are beautiful and perfect for a mental break and a gallery stroll.
Q: The pandemic has made it a unique time to start a new job on a college campus. What are you looking forward to most about your work activities post-COVID-19?
I look forward to real human interaction, serendipitous maskless encounters and water-cooler chats.
Q: What are some of your favorite spots on campus or around town since you arrived in Lexington?
I love walking the full Woods Creek Trail through the university, VMI and nearby residential areas.
Q: What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not at work?
I love socializing with friends, listening to podcasts, gardening and challenging myself to new experiences such as hiking. I am currently working my way through Hawa Hassan’s cookbook, “In Bibi’s Kitchen: The Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers from the Eight African Countries that Touch the Indian Ocean.”
Q: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you build your dream home? Why?
Sudan – it is the only place on earth where I fully belong. My name, my phenotype, my religion, my language is never contested, otherized or exotified there. The country is culturally and historically rich; linguistically, religiously and ethnically diverse; and is home to the warmest and most hospitable people I’ve ever encountered. Sudan is also the land of my forefathers and foremothers. I have made over eight trips to Khartoum and various Sudanese cities in the past decade alone, not including childhood trips. My dream is to build a home near the Nile River, then split my time between my two homes.
Q: What are some of your favorite museums you have visited?
I love the Detroit Institute of Arts, and small culturally and ethno-specific museums you encounter when traveling abroad. I just love museums.
Q: What is the best book or film you’ve read/watched recently?
“1Q84” by Haruki Murakami is my most recent favorite book. In movies, I have two favorites: “His House,” a 2020 Netflix thriller about a refugee couple adjusting in an English town and “You Will Die at 20.”
Q: What is your favorite kind of music or musical artist?
I have an eclectic taste in music. When I’m working on menial tasks or cooking, I will play 90s R&B, soul, alternative rock and pop. When I work out, I listen to hip hop, motivational lectures, heavy metal and hard rock. And when I am working, my playlist shuffles between Arabic orchestras, Buika, Alsarah & the Nubatones, The Mars Volta, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Metallica and San Francisco Symphony, Light in Babylon, etc. I enjoy music and sounds that are enigmatic and unpredictable.
Q: What is your desert island food?
A plate of shrimp, cheese, and fresh (and cold) figs, grapes, oranges and berries.
Q: What are some things most people don’t know about you?
I am building a cultural archive of Sudanese fine arts. Also, most people know I love animals, but they don’t know that I have an intense fear of dogs. I will smile through the fear and appear calm, but every fiber of my being is on high alert because their unpredictability frightens me to my core. Despite my fears, I am drawn to their beauty and playfulness, especially German shepherds and Siberian huskies.
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