Homeland Under My Nails is the first major UK solo exhibition of works by Mohammad Omar Khalil (b.1936). One of the most important artists of his generation from Sudan, he contributed to the Arab Modernist Movement as well as the International Modernism. The exhibition at the Mosaic Rooms celebrates Khalil’s art from 1964 till present. Khalil works predominantly in printmaking and explores themes of identity and displacement. His often ambiguous and bordering on abstraction works include references to social history, pop culture and commentary on current events.
Khalil was born in Sudan where he studied and later taught at the School of Fine and Applied Arts in Khartoum. In the 1960s he studied in Florence, Italy and later moved to New York where he mastered his printmaking techniques and devoted himself to this art medium. He shares his time between Asilah, Morocco and New York.
The exhibition title comes from Khalil’s quote ‘My homeland exists in my nails, it expresses itself whenever I create an artwork’. During the printmaking process the ink gets trapped under artist’s nails and it stays there. Even after decades of living abroad his country of birth remains an important influence in his work.
The displays in the first two rooms are arranged according to the location the artworks were made, allowing the visitors to trace Khalil’s artistic development and influences he picked up in places he lived in or visited. The visitor’s journey begins with The Flood – Early Works 1964-1967. The flood of 1988 affected large parts of Khartoum and destroyed most of Khalil’s early works created in Sudan and Italy between 1964 and 1967. The few works that survived, such as his self-portraits and painted scenes of daily life are on display together with archival material documenting his early years in Sudan.
Since 1967 the artist has been based in New York. For almost three decades he also spent time in Asilah, Morocco, taking part in the Asilah Festival each year since its launch in 1978. The town became his second home. Works produced in New York and Asilah are gathered in the Room 2 under the title Metaphor of Blackness: 1968-2019 as black and white dominate Khalil’s prints. The viewers are invited to contemplate the artworks in groups or individually. Throughout the display selected artist’s quotes serve as commentary in the absence of detailed labels, although all the essential information is included in the exhibition brochure.
The last room, Sounds Within Me: 1975-2016 showcases Khalil’s works inspired by music. The artist enjoys experimenting with different printmaking techniques. In this part of the display black and white are accompanied by occasional splash of colour, such as in the series of prints referencing the iconic Egyptian singer Oum Kalthoum. Aside from Oum Kalthoum, the most famous Arab singer of the twentieth century, you will also encounter references to another music icon – Bob Dylan, such as in the work Tombstone Blues (1986), which combines several techniques including etching, soft-ground, aquatint and spit-bite.
The exhibition curated by Abed Al Kadiri is a great opportunity to introduce Khalil to the UK audience and a tribute to his life’s work.
Homeland Under My Nails. Mohammad Omar Khalil – Selected Prints (1964-Present) runs at the Mosaic Rooms, London from 22 January 2020 until 26 April 2020. Free entry.
UPDATE: The gallery has recently reopened after the lockdown and the exhibition is now extended until 30 August 2020. Definitely check it out, especially if you missed it earlier in the year. New gallery opening hours are Thursday – Sunday 11am – 6pm.
Check out this link before you visit https://mosaicrooms.org/the-mosaic-rooms-reopening-and-visitor-information/
Visit the exhibition page on the Mosaic Rooms website: https://mosaicrooms.org/event/homelandundermynails/
Check out my blog post on Blood Is Thicker Than Water, the performance by Sudanese artist Hassan Musa, which took place at the Mosaic Rooms in February to accompany this exhibition.