Sharjah Biennial Is One Of The Best Art Happenings This Season

BY Katrina Kufer / Mar 17 2019 / 16:32 PM

Sharjah Biennial sees three guest curators - Zoe Butt, Omar Kholeif and Claire Tancons - at the helm presenting extensive programming that questions competing information, fluctuating histories and the resulting trajectory of contemporary art

Sharjah Biennial Is One Of The Best Art Happenings This Season
Courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation

Leaving the Echo Chamber, the 14th edition of Sharjah Art Foundation’s Sharjah Biennial, returned on 7 March with nearly 90 established and emerging artists and over 60 new commissions and never-before-seen works. With the remit indicating its pursuance of “the possibilities and purpose of producing art when news is fed by a monopoly of sources, history is increasingly fictionalized, when ideas of ‘society’ are invariably displaced, and when borders and beliefs are dictated by cultural, social and political systems,” it will feature works by numerous artists including Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Alessandro Balteo-Yazbeck, Shezad Dawood, Hrair Sarkissian and Huguette Caland.

Three guest curators — Zoe Butt, Artistic Director at The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre, Ho Chi Minh City; Omar Kholeif, writer and curator; and Claire Tancons, curator and scholar — will each tackle art production in an age of material culture that is under human-incited threat. “Each bring vastly different experiences and perspectives to the central theme of Leaving the Echo Chamber,” says Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, SAF President and Director, curator and artist. “The platform the curators have created features three distinct exhibitions, all with new commissions, as well as the programmes, panel discussions and performances that are part of our annual March Meeting. We look forward to welcoming friends and collaborators from around the world back to Sharjah to continue this vital dialogue.”

Installation view, Lantian Xie, 'Romance Section', 2016–2019. Courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation

Butt will curate Journey Beyond the Arrow, which looks at the movement of humanity and the tools that have enabled or hindered its survival through works by several artists including Khadim Ali, Meiro Koizumi and Lantian Xie. “It argues that the way forward to increase the echo (the human rituals, language, cultural practices and beliefs) within the chamber of contemporary life is by understanding (thus not assuming) the cause and effect of human action — to not focus on the destination of the arrow but rather at the bow which launches its existence,” she explains. “Thus much of the art presented here encompasses artistic provocations of History and its (stereotyped) context, re-presenting fact as fiction (and fiction as fact) arguing (and thus celebrating) the necessary, innovative movement of mind and matter and method across the globe.”

Installation view, Khadim Ali, 'Standing Flames', 2019. Courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation

Kholeif’s three-part Making New Time considers time as a simultaneously singular and collective unit of experience, both chaotic and rife with potential. “Making New Time seeks to ask the question: what does it mean in an era of circuitous looping echo chambers to demand your own images, your own narratives, and to present and untangle your own history,” he says. “The exhibition is a deconstruction of material cultures and hidden histories. It presents the bodily, the visceral, the spatial and the temporal in response to the local ecology of Sharjah, weaving through the minds of artists a new collective form of imagination.” Featured artists include Marwa Arsanios, Alfredo Jaar and Michael Rakowitz, among others.

Installation view, Shezad Dawood, ‘Encroachments', 2019. Courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation

Claire Tancons’s gathering of 27 artists, including Caline Aoun, Allora & Calzadilla and Wael Shawky, for Look for Me All Around You is “an open platform of migrant images and fugitive forms. Composed of multiple scores drawn from the many scales of Sharjah as city, emirate and peninsular territory, these after-images and after-forms circumnavigate global history, meeting through the confluence of the Gulfs of Mexico and Oman and the Atlantic and Indian Oceans in a call-and-response between the Americas and the Emirates,” she notes. “The platform attests to the alternatively dispossessive and repossessive nature of diasporisation. It manifests in displaced artefacts, coded languages, sonic disturbances, transient presences, light flashes and shadow imprints. What is being ‘looked for’ is not what is being ‘looked at’ — if only it could be seen.” Tancons’s accompanying performance programme and talk series leads into March Meeting 2019 (9-11 March), likewise curated by the trio under their respective themes.

Installation view, Suchitra Mattai, 'Imperfect Isometry', 2019. Courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation

“With each Sharjah Biennial, we hope to create a moment when the local community as well as the UAE and regional art worlds can experience and be participants in a project that we believe is fundamentally about creating a new understanding of the role of art and at the same time, of the world as we know it,” says Al Qasimi. Aiming to deepen the context of the questions posed, the biennial’s exploration of migration, the diaspora, time and interpreted histories, it won’t propose an exit strategy to this “echo chamber” of looping information. Rather, it strives to consider renegotiating what the biennial refers to as a modern-day Faraday cage to “move towards a multiplying of the echoes within” in order to connect, survive and sustain collective humanity.

Production still, Alid Faria, 'At The Time of the Ebb', 2019

Sharjah Biennial 14 runs 7 March-10 June 2019 at Sharjah Art Foundation and across Sharjah.

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