Othman Khunji is an award winning artist, educator and a dedicated advocate for artists, consistently supporting and nurturing their talents. Through his roles as a mentor in the Misk Art Institute – Masaha Artist in Residency program and a Portfolio Development Counsellor at VCUarts Qatar, he empowers artists by offering individual guidance and helping them showcase their work to diverse audiences.
Othman's commitment to mentorship is evident as he helps artists refine their skills, prepare for exhibitions, and navigate the admissions process. Additionally, his participation in the recently held Middle East Council on Global Affairs highlights his engagement with broader issues in the arts community, contributing to the dialogue on the challenges and opportunities in the region. Othman Khunji's profile exemplifies his unwavering dedication to nurturing artistic talent and actively shaping the development of the arts.
Balancing multiple roles
As a Portfolio Development Counsellor at VCUarts Qatar, Othman helps aspiring artists create compelling portfolios and inspires them through his personal journey and the experiences of other alumni. He sees his various roles not as jobs but as sources of personal fulfillment. Despite the potential challenges and hectic schedules, he finds purpose and fulfillment in his work. "I also see it as coming full circle especially from someone who grew up in the region, I was told that a career in the arts is not financially stable or could make an impact, to someone who counsels upcoming prospective students to enter the creative field."
Othman’s involvement as a faculty member at the University of Doha for Science and Technology (UDST) adds another dimension to his multifaceted role in the arts community. He teaches "Introduction to the Arts," a course that delves into the fundamentals of the creative field. The course is a manifestation of a diverse avant-garde syllabus designed by Khunji, which recognizes and appreciates the significant role that art and design play in people's day-to-day experiences.
As a mentor at the Misk Art Institute, he provides individual guidance to artists in the Masaha Artist in Residency program, helping them refine their skills and prepare for exhibitions. These roles complement each other by enabling Othman to stay current with trends while appreciating past contributions and artistic methods.
Empowering aspiring artists
In his role as a mentor at the Misk Art Institute, Othman provides one-on-one sessions with artists participating in the Masaha Artist in Residency program. These sessions allow him to understand each artist's unique concept and provide guidance accordingly.
He conducts workshops and crit sessions to facilitate the artists' growth and help them elevate their work. "As a mentor, I have to prepare tailored advice, reading material, inspiring precedents and create a unique path for every mentee’s process. This is unlike a class which has a defined syllabus and all students are taught simultaneously for a unified outcome. As a mentor, my job is to not change their ideas but enable and inspire them to work on their proposals and concepts and elevate them in the best way possible," said Othman.
As a Portfolio Development Counsellor at VCUarts Qatar, Othman employs various strategies to assist aspiring artists in creating compelling portfolios. In VCUarts Qatar, a portfolio development class is offered to help students present their artwork effectively for university admissions. Othman also engages in recruitment efforts, sharing his personal journey and experiences to inspire prospective students.
By giving lectures and representing the university locally and internationally, he raises awareness about the value of art and design in today's world. Othman aims to excite and inspire anyone who is interested in pursuing a career in the arts. “It is every parents’ concern to know the potential or a career path that they will be funding. I would share how art and design have been integrated in every field out there on a daily basis, such as the buildings we come across and the clothes that we wear,” explained Othman.
Overcoming challenges and fostering growth
Othman understands that emerging artists face numerous challenges in developing their artistic practice, such as accessing specialized facilities, logistical constraints, and in some cases – cultural shocks. “If I were to give myself a title, I'd be called an interdisciplinary conceptual artist. I consistently question what more I can learn. The more you educate yourself, you will have more resources to educate others,” he shares.
As an artist himself, Othman helps artists overcome these challenges during the mentorship program by providing a supportive environment and encouraging collaboration among artists. "To overcome that, the point of residency is to get to know and befriend other artists. I would say flying the international artists in is an opportunity to experience Riyadh – a new culture. That can be seen as a strength but we would gladly guide them through workshops, masterclasses, and trips to explore and see what the place has to offer," expressed Khunji.
Insights on arts in the Arab Gulf
Othman recently participated in a panel discussion on "Creative & Youth Activism in the MENA region". During the discussion, he shared insights on creating thought provoking artworks and social justice topics that are often silenced or overlooked in the Arab Gulf region. He emphasized the importance of creative individuals taking the initiative and seeking opportunities, despite the possibility of rejection. "My advice, as a creative individual, is that you have to make the first move. You need to put yourself out there and search for opportunities such as residencies, collaborations, and exhibitions that exist out there. Sometimes you get accepted, sometimes you get rejected – that is life, as there is a learning curve in that too," he explained.
Othman observes that the arts and cultural landscape of the Middle East has experienced a significant acceleration in the past ten to fifteen years. This period has witnessed a surge in opportunities for artists and creative individuals within the Arab Gulf region. However, he notes that despite these opportunities, some institutions still face a shortage of individuals actively seeking to apply and engage with them.
Othman encourages aspiring talents to reach out and take advantage of these available opportunities, emphasizing his willingness to assist in connecting them with relevant contacts and resources. “I am always happy to inspire and connect individuals in hope of fruitful creative opportunities.” Looking ahead, he believes that the region’s cultural sector is in a continuous process of growth and elevation, with room for reflection, improvement, and development.
– Marsya Abdulghani
Images courtesy of Othman Khunji
For more information about VCUarts Qatar, visit qatar.vcu.edu
About Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar
Established in 1998 through a partnership with Qatar Foundation, VCUarts Qatar is the international branch campus of Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts, a top-ranked art and design school in Richmond, Virginia in the United States. VCUarts Qatar offers students the opportunity to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in graphic design, interior design, and painting and printmaking, a Bachelor of Arts degree in art history, and a Master of Fine Arts degree in design. A vibrant community with global reach, VCUarts promises to instill in students a lifelong passion for education and the arts.
Qatar Foundation – Unlocking Human Potential
Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF) is a non-profit organization that supports Qatar on its journey to becoming a diversified and sustainable economy. QF strives to serve the people of Qatar and beyond by providing specialized programs across its innovation-focused ecosystem of education, research and development, and community development. QF is also creating a multidisciplinary innovation hub in Qatar, where homegrown researchers are working to address local and global challenges. By promoting a culture of lifelong learning and fostering social engagement through programs that embody Qatari culture, QF is committed to empowering the local community and contributing to a better world for all.