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Prominent Islamic Art Scholar Joins O’Donnell Institute of Art History

Dr. Sabiha Al Khemir

Dr. Sabiha Al Khemir

Dr. Sabiha Al Khemir, an internationally renowned authority on the history of Islamic art from the seventh to the 19th centuries, has been named Distinguished Scholar of Islamic Art in Residence at The University of Texas at Dallas.

Working within the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History, Al Khemir — who specializes in artifacts from the ancient Fatimid Caliphate — will mentor students and involve them in her research and exhibition projects at the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA), where she will continue in her role as senior advisor for Islamic art.

“This is a very interesting moment in Dallas where institutional dialogue is benefiting inquisitive minds and offering a haven for them to flourish,” Al Khemir said. “The partnership between the DMA and the O’Donnell Institute creates a unique opportunity for the teaching of Islamic art that will thrive through scholarship, research and debate, where students have direct access to artifacts. The DMA’s curatorial projects offer students a creative way to engage with the material culture of the Islamic world. Consequently, this benefits new approaches to the history of art.”

Al Khemir works with the DMA to enhance the presence of Islamic art within its collections and promote the exchange of Islamic works between the museum and other institutions. She began her appointment there in 2012, and under her advisory role, aided the museum in acquiring a long-term loan in 2014 of the Keir Collection, one of the world’s most extensive private collections of Islamic art.

“The DMA’s committed vision to Islamic art has created a transformational possibility with the Keir Collection,” Al Khemir said. “Spanning 13 centuries and various media from a wide geographical expanse, the Keir Collection offers serious resources for the study of Islamic art. Introducing the teaching of Islamic art at the O’Donnell Institute consolidates a growing interest in this field, confirming Dallas as an important center for Islamic art.”

From 2006 to 2008, Al Khemir served as the founding director of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, having joined the project in 2003.

The partnership between the DMA and the O’Donnell Institute creates a unique opportunity for the teaching of Islamic art that will thrive through scholarship, research and debate, where students have direct access to artifacts.

Dr. Sabiha Al Khemir
Distinguished Scholar of Islamic Art in Residence at The University of Texas at Dallas

“Sabiha Al Khemir is truly a citizen of the world,” said Dr. Richard Brettell, founding director of the O’Donnell Institute and the Margaret M. McDermott Distinguished Chair of Art and Aesthetic Studies. Al Khemir was born and raised in Tunisia, educated in France and England, and has been professionally active in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and the United States. In addition to her role overseeing the opening and installation of the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar, Brettell noted that she has mounted important exhibitions in many countries.

Al Khemir has also organized major touring exhibitions in the United States and Europe. In 2014, she curated “Nur: Light in Art and Science from the Islamic World,” a unique exhibition of about 150 articles of Islamic art; the DMA was the only venue outside of Europe to host it. In September 2015, she organized and developed “Spirit and Matter: Masterpieces from the Keir Collection of Islamic Art” at the DMA.

Al Khemir has also produced the catalog for an Islamic art exhibition at the Louvre Museum in Paris, taught courses in Islamic art at the British Museum in London and consulted for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

A writer and an artist, she has published two novels — "The Blue Manuscript" and "Waiting in the Future for the Past to Come" — and has also published illustrative work.

Al Khemir received her bachelor’s degree in English literature from the École Normale Supérieure in Tunis, Tunisia, and her master’s and doctorate in Islamic art and archaeology from the University of London.

“She is an almost messianic communicator about Islamic art and culture to the wider world, and she knows well the byways of both academia and the museum world,” Brettell said. “Our students are already benefiting from her presence on campus, and we look forward to an exciting partnership between the DMA and the O’Donnell Institute under her guidance.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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