I Create Birmingham: Wassan Al-Khudhairi

Name: Wassan Al-Khudhairi
Occupation: Curator Of Modern & Contemporary Art at BMA
Creative Industry: Culture & Heritage

1. What does Creative Birmingham mean to you?
Being new to Birmingham, I am encouraged by what Creative Birmingham stands for, as it can play a critical role in the ever-progressing cultural landscape of our community. It’s important to define Birmingham’s creative industry in order to deepen cultural relationships and strengthen organizational partnerships so that we may build on the momentum that has been taking place over the past few years.

2. What would you like to see happen in Birmingham in the next 5 years?
I would love to see Birmingham as a more dynamic place where multidisciplinary arts — from visual art and performance, to music and film — create a truly connected creative community. From the perspective of the Birmingham Museum of Art, I would like to expand and diversify our contemporary art programming to become a vital resource for art in the Southeast. Additionally, I’m focused on finding ways to establish greater dialogue between the Museum and our growing artistic community.

3. You previously spent time in both South Korea and Qatar, how did your experiences there prepare you for the work you are doing in Birmingham?
My experiences abroad helped me define my curatorial approach which I think of as a lighthouse: firmly planted in Birmingham but with an international scope. This creates opportunities for unexpected connections and conversations from art across various geographies, cultures, and time. For example, I recently offered a program by a collective, Slavs and Tatars, whose practice focuses on the history of language politics in Eurasia. We currently have one of their sculptures on display in a gallery, surrounded by works from our permanent collection. The intention is to allow new ideas and observations to emerge by juxtaposing works from our collection with work by artists in an entirely different context.

4. What do you look for when choosing contemporary art for the museum? Do you have any favorites in the current collection?
I closely follow the work of established and emerging artists to distinguish pieces that would enhance or complement our existing collection in order to establish the Museum as a thought leader for contemporary art.

Of course I have my favorites, but I’m always hesitant to divulge them because I want our visitors to have their own experience and decide for themselves which are the best pieces in our collection.

5. Are there any local artists that have caught your eye since you’ve been in Birmingham?
There are so many incredible artists in Birmingham, one that has kept my interest of late is the sculptor Frank Fleming. Frank has contributed so much to the Birmingham art scene over a decades long career. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him and learning about his impressive body of work. We will be honoring him with a focused exhibition of his early ceramics, opening at the end of February 2015.

6. You’ve only been here a few short months. Do you have any favorite local places to eat, shop, or play?
For my coffee fix, I love going to Octane since it’s a quick and refreshing walk from the Museum. I enjoy having lunch meetings at Urban Standard in their always bustling atmosphere. For an after work drink or late night dinner, Carrigan’s is the place to go. I really appreciate Birmingham’s access to fresh vegetables, so on the weekends I hit up the Alabama Farmer’s Market on Finely Avenue.

photo credit: Orlando Thompson