Homeland Under My Nails
Mohammad Omar Khalil - Selected Prints (1964-Present)
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Mohammad Omar Khalil (b. 1936) is a painter, master printmaker and mentor. Practicing since the 1960s, he is one of the most significant artists of his generation from Sudan and the Arab world. Homeland Under My Nails, curated by Abed Al Kadiri, presents prints by Khalil from throughout his career. It is the first major UK solo exhibition of his work.
The exhibition opens with a series of self-portraits and early works. Khalil, now 83, has long experimented with self-portraits as a means of self-transformation. One of his earliest self-portraits from 1968, at only 2cm by 2cm, challenges the form and medium. Much of the artist’s early work was destroyed in the flood that hit Sudan’s capital in 1988. The few works that survived are displayed here alongside early experimentations from the artist’s time studying at the Academy of Florence, showing the evolution of his style.
The exhibition then looks at the international sensibility of the artist, who trained in Sudan and Italy, and has lived and worked between New York (USA) and Asilah (Morocco) since the 1970s. Moving to New York he quickly began incorporating pop culture into his work—stamps, music and film. The Harlem Portfolio brings together the life and spirit of the New York neighbourhood in a large scale series of prints 5 metres in length. In 1978, Khalil took part in the first Asilah Festival and continued to return as the festival’s head of studios for three decades. Works including Asilah Connection (1992) show him exploring the materiality of light in the coastal town.
A search for light and the use of black is the driving force in Khalil’s work. He says: “In blackness, I see degrees and shades of rich, complicated colour, more intense than in other colours, roaring and loud.”
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.
Sudan continues to be a point of orientation for Khalil who says: “My homeland exists in my nails, it expresses itself whenever I create an artwork.” This exhibition is a long overdue celebration of his life’s work.
Homeland Under My Nails is curated by Abed Al Kadiri with The Mosaic Rooms. A special series of events, including a conversation with the artist, accompanies 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.