Africa Institute opens in Sharjah

The newly rebuilt Africa Hall will serve as the meeting place for conferences, symposiums, lectures, film screenings, plays and performances.
Sunday 28/10/2018
A view of the Africa Hall in Sharjah. (Africa Institute)
Great potential. A view of the Africa Hall in Sharjah. (Africa Institute)

SHARJAH - The newly rebuilt Africa Hall has been inaugurated and an Africa Institute established in Sharjah to boost collaboration and cultural exchange between the Arabian Gulf and Africa.

The formal opening in September was followed by performances by world-renowned African artists and an international symposium “5-plus-1: Rethinking Abstraction.”

The Africa Hall, which was built on the same site as the original building, will serve as the meeting place for conferences, symposiums, lectures, film screenings, plays and performances related to the activities of the Africa Institute.

An additional building that will house the Africa Institute is to be constructed adjacent to Africa Hall. It will include an exhibition gallery, a research and archive centre and a library.

“I am both excited and honoured to work on this very important milestone in Sharjah’s cultural scene,” said Sheikha Hoor al-Qasimi, daughter of Sharjah ruler Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad al-Qasimi, and president of the Africa Institute.

“The potential and possibilities are endless and I am pleased that Sharjah will set the foundations for a globally oriented African and African Diaspora Studies centre of this impressive scale and scope,” she said.

Sheikha Hoor said: “My father has always promoted the arts and culture in Sharjah. When Africa Hall was originally inaugurated under his patronage, he wanted to create a lasting legacy of collaboration and cultural exchange. Given the Arabian Gulf’s deep historical ties to Africa, the Africa Institute came organically as a continuation of that legacy and was warmly welcomed by the community here.”

Dwelling on the history behind Africa Hall and its cultural significance to Sharjah, Sheikha Hoor said the Africa Institute was planned in 1976 but never fully realised, “so it is great that we are able to achieve this now.”

Africa Hall’s first cultural and political event was the Arab-African Symposium in December 1976. The new Africa Hall “will build on the original building’s legacy of serving as a cultural and educational hub,” Sheikha Hoor said.

The Africa Institute was conceived as a research-based think-tank and postgraduate studies institution. It will be a globally oriented, interdisciplinary academic research and archival institute, which will offer master’s and doctoral degree programmes.

“The Africa Institute will academically and artistically explore and examine the limitless viewpoints and perspectives regarding African and African Diaspora Studies, including studies of history, culture and the arts,” Sheikha Hoor said.

Salah Hassan, director of the Institute for Comparative Modernities at Cornell University and academic adviser to the Africa Institute, said the aim was “to establish and build the Africa Institute as a first-rate international research and postgraduate programme in African and African Diaspora Studies.”

“We plan to have a first-class library and archives that will be made available to researchers from across Africa, the diaspora and the rest of the world,” he said.

The institute will offer postdoctoral and other research fellowships for scholars interested in African studies and will collaborate with African-based universities and research institutions.

“In addition, the institute will serve as a serious think-tank on current issues and challenges in Africa and become an incubator and enabler for scholars who are pursuing new research on issues related to Africa. Above all, the institute will use its facilities, especially Africa Hall, for outreach and public programmes in music, theatre, performing arts and visual arts,” Hassan said.

One of the Africa Institute’s fundamental objectives is to challenge stereotypical representations of African arts and cultures rooted in Eurocentric paradigms and Orientalist tropes, he added.

“In other words, pursuing a non-Orientalist approach to African studies is fundamental to the institute’s mission and, therefore, its objective of correcting the distorted images of Africa and its people and cultures common in the press and media,” Hassan said.

“This mission will be pursued via serious research agendas that present a more realistic view of Africa and its diaspora through study of not only African contributions to humanity and world civilisations and a celebration of its arts and cultures but also the challenges and crises that Africa and its people are currently facing.”

Above all, Hassan said, the location of the institute in the Arabian Gulf will be important. “As underlined in its mission, the Africa Institute is uniquely positioned to further the analysis of larger African and Gulf ties, like those powerfully demonstrated in the historiography of the Indian Ocean rim.”