W&L Students Curate Fall Art Exhibition “Mohammad Omer Khalil: Musings,” co-curated by four Washington and Lee students as part of a seminar course in museum studies, will be on display in the Watson Galleries Sept. 28, 2023 through June 1, 2024.
“Our student curators were instrumental in shaping the curatorial foundation, adding depth and diversity to our work.”
~ Isra El-beshir, director of the Museums at W&L
As part of a Spring Term seminar in museum studies, Washington and Lee University presents an art exhibit by Mohammad Omer Khalil, a Sudanese American artist currently based in New York, titled “Musings.”
The exhibition was co-curated by Annie Zajicek ’24, Annabel Symington ’25, Aislinn Niimi ’24 and Hailey Neaman ’25, all of whom comprise the ARTH 398 Museum Studies class offered during Spring Term. Under the guidance of course instructor Isra El-beshir, director of Museums, and in collaboration with Patricia Hobbs, senior curator of art, the students conducted interviews with the artist, created an exhibition proposal and implementation plan, and created marketing and programming.
“Our Museums’ curatorial team, often led solely by the exceptional Patricia Hobbs, was gifted by the inclusion of four brilliant voices,” said El-beshir. “Our student curators were instrumental in shaping the curatorial foundation, adding depth and diversity to our work.”
The exhibition’s journey actually started back in 2021, when El-beshir began working with her first cohort of students in ARTH 398.
“The goal was to infuse dynamism into our curatorial projects and foster deeper engagement with our students and the campus community,” El-beshir said.
While previous ARTH 398 classes focused on works already owned by the university, El-beshir decided to take a different approach and invite artists not already represented in W&L’s collection.
“Due to the synergy between Khalil’s work and the resources at W&L—a print studio and a growing museum collection of works on paper—coupled with his respect for our academic mission and genuine enthusiasm about working with our students, I was motivated to focus the 2023 Spring Term on a survey of his work, both paintings and etchings from 1985 to 2022,” El-beshir said.
“Musings” explores nearly four decades of the artist’s use of found objects to commemorate and reflect upon the people, places and things from around the world that have inspired him. The medium of printmaking and collage painting allows Khalil to directly include found objects in his work; visitors to the Watson Galleries will be able to spot these objects, such as stamps and newspaper clippings, in the 16-piece exhibition.
Khalil’s work ranges from etchings highlighting the music of Bob Dylan to mixed media paintings paying homage to Jean-Michel Basquiat and Louise Nevelson. Three pieces were gifted to the university by the artist, along with three new acquisitions for the Museums’ permanent collection that ARTH 398 students proposed to the University’s Museum Advisory Committee. In addition to the “Musings” exhibition, Kahlil’s works will also be on display in “Curricular Connections,” an exhibition housed in the Reeves Museum of Ceramics.
“I’m excited because I think the exhibition and subsequent acquisition of one of the artist’s works will invite a different demographic of students to the museums, especially the possibility for collaboration with studio art and Africana studies students,” says Neaman, a religion and art history double major.
Khalil was born in Sudan in 1936. He began to develop his craft through his education, studying at the School of Fine and Applied Arts in Khartoum, Sudan, and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, Italy. In 1967, he immigrated to New York, where he created many of his works, including the pieces displayed in the Watson Galleries.
“When speaking to the artist, we were inspired by his creative process, especially how he picks up objects from the street and makes them new and beautiful,” said Niimi, who is double majoring in classics and East Asian languages and literature and minoring in cultural heritage and museum studies.
Niimi said the opportunity to interact with El-beshir and Hobbs, along with class visits from the Museums’ Curator for Academic Engagement, Elizabeth Spear, provided a helpful framework for creating a thoughtful plan for the fall exhibition.
“We really got a behind-the-scenes look at what went into putting together past exhibits on campus and the curatorial decisions that went into those shows,” Niimi said.
“I’ve worked with many Spring Term museum studies classes over the years who have installed several fine exhibitions, but this year’s exhibition project was the most ambitious,” Hobbs said. “Working on a larger scale with a living artist was a greater challenge than we’ve ever offered the class, and I was very impressed with the students’ enthusiasm and the quality of their work, which was conducted in just under four weeks. They provided a very sound foundation, which the museum staff built on, to create this exhibition.”
W&L will celebrate the exhibition’s opening on Thursday, Sept. 28, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. with a reception in the Watson Galleries. All are welcome to attend. The artist talk previously scheduled to coincide with the exhibition opening has been postponed to a later date.