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Black Art at Rice: Magdah Omer discusses identity and new exhibit


Zeisha Bennett / Thresher

By Emelia Gauch     10/13/21 12:49am

Editor’s note: This is an installment of Black Art at Rice, a Q&A series that aims to shed light on the inspirations, influences, wisdom and work of Black artists in the Rice community. Have someone in mind whose art should be spotlighted? Nominate them online.

Magdah Omer, a Baker College senior, discusses their upcoming exhibition, “be water my friend,” at Sleepy Cyborg, opening Oct. 15. Omer’s art featured in the exhibit explores the fluidity of self and identity and utilizes acrylic paint on various unconventional canvases, including clothes, furniture and even people. The exhibit draws inspiration from Agnes Pelton, Özlem Thompson and Hilma af Klint. Omer said they hope that, through viewing and experiencing their artwork, people will gain better understandings of their own selves. The opening reception is on Oct. 15 from 7 - 9 p.m. with the exhibit open through Oct. 24.

Rice Thresher: What is your major? Do you study visual arts?

Magdah Omer: My major is bioengineering [and] focusing on global health technologies and medical humanities. I got asked if I wanted to do this exhibit this summer. It was all a coincidence. I used to take art classes in high school, I was always very into painting. When I came into Rice, I took an art class, but didn’t really pursue the major. 

Being asked to do this exhibit was exciting. At first, I was hesitant. I was like, “I am not an artist. I don’t make art with a certain theme in mind or for a certain reason. I kind of just make it.” But, this summer, I got back into art. It’s really exciting to find something that feels natural, something that is representing me to the best of my abilities to the point that other people know more about me by looking at my art.

RT: How would you describe your current style of art?

MO: Abstract; I don’t know how to describe it, otherwise. I was painting this summer around a lot of creative and loving people. I also was learning about myself, so words like naturalistic come to mind. The show takes inspiration from nature. The color [and] the form [are] like water. It’s sensual. The art is some representation of where I was this summer and what I learned about myself in terms of my identity and how fluid that is.

RT: Do you have a favorite subject within your art or a theme that you are most interested in exploring?

MO: I like to explore identity within myself. For me, what art has been about is the process and the process of making the art is about feeling what the art wants to be. So, saying, “This art wants to be fluid,” or “This art wants to be intuitive,” and it helps me become that way, too. In making the art, I feel like I am practicing these qualities. I am making the things I want to embody, which is this person who can just exist and move with the tides. 

RT: Could you tell me about your upcoming show at Sleepy Cyborg?

MO: When I was thinking about the show and how to showcase my work, I didn’t have a body of work already made, so I got to think about what I wanted the theme of the show to be. 

Linking the show to body and identity, I thought, “Why don’t I just paint on people?” So, I asked five of my friends if I could paint them, which happened within Sleep Cyborg last week. The show includes pictures of those pieces, along with some other [works] that I’m excited about.

RT: What did the process of developing this show look like?

MO: At the beginning, my friend [and I] would just meet up a lot at [Rice] Coffeehouse and do the high level thinking about what we want the show to look like. 

This past week, the friends I was painting and I would go into Sleepy Cyborg. We set up the camera, made sure the lighting was good and would just talk as I painted. I got inspiration from someone who told me she would ask people, “What color do you feel today?” So, I asked my friends, before I started painting them, “What color do you feel today? If you don’t have a color, what words, textures or patterns do you feel like?” I didn’t want them to tell me about their day. I wanted words. 

RT: What challenges did you have to overcome in designing this show?

MO: I had to accept the idea that people wanted to see my art and that I wanted to put my art out there. I had to think about myself as an artist. There were worries and fears. It was about not falling into those fears about myself. 

The show also involved thinking a lot about my gender and sexual identity, processing how I want to express and experiment that, thinking about labels and my relationships. 

There is a lot of room in my life right now for flexibility and fluidity. How do I want to carry that forward… to express or even label myself? I don’t want a constriction that isn’t mine. That’s what I’m taking out of this show in terms of my identity. Being really critical, in a very loving way, towards myself. Thinking, where did I get these things that I used to classify myself and others from? 

The practice that I’ve found in my art, in being intuitive, in getting into that flow, I know what that feels like. I know what it feels like when I paint and it feels very right. So, I know what feeling right will feel like when I’m expressing myself in other senses.

RT: What are your thoughts on Black representation in art?

MO: The world I live in and the people I interact with are Black. All I see are Black people and Black art, because I seek it out. There is a lot of Black art. I love Black art. I love Black people. I think they are very creative people and express themselves unapologetically. Especially right now, with all the access to information we have, I think the question of representation is whether or not people are seeking it out.

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