Sharjah Biennial 13 promises to be unlike previous iterations
Sharjah - With a new concept and elaborate programmes, the Sharjah Biennial 13 (SB13), organised by the Sharjah Art Foundation, is proving to be nothing like its previous iterations.
Curated by Beirut-based Christine Tohmé, the biennial features a variety of exhibitions and educational and public programmes, which have been under way since October under the theme of tamawuj, Arabic for “undulating” and “wavy”.
SB13 includes an online depository of research material, four projects curated by interlocutors outside of the United Arab Emirates, a year-long education programme in Sharjah, a year-long online publishing platform and additional exhibitions and programmes in Sharjah running from March to June 2017 and others taking place in Beirut in October 2017.
The biennial will feature more than 50 international artists, 15 of whom will be new participants. The complete artist lineup is to be announced in the coming months.
The interlocutors — artist Kader Attia, curators Lara Khaldi and Zeynep Oz and Ashkal Alwan, the Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts — will work with counterparts in Sharjah, Dakar, Ramallah, Istanbul and Beirut.
They will also be creating a centralised digital storage space housing various media focusing on the key words “water”, “earth”, “crops” and “culinary”. Each keyword will correspond to a locality that will host a programme — in Dakar (January 2017), Istanbul (May 2017), Ramallah (August 2017) and Beirut (October 2017).
Explaining the vision behind expanding the Sharjah Biennial across genres, themes and localities, Tohmé said: “The institutional infrastructures within which we operate in the (MENA) region are fragile to say the least. Working within this reality means that we have to consider practical and viable solutions, often coming in the form of informal networks and personal bonds.
“This is why the idea of what a biennial is, and what it could do, needs to expand and stretch in order to allow for direct intervention, vital for the survival of many art landscapes, institutions and individuals.”
Tohmé pointed out that the format of the biennials has taken on a different role over the years. “In the ’90s, biennials used to be vehicles for the locals to get acquainted with the international art world, while bringing international visibility to the local art scene. Today, there are other artistic frameworks that play the same role, while the biennial format kept growing in size and scope without necessarily questioning its original purpose.”
For Tohmé and Sharjah Art Foundation President and Director Sheikha Hoor al-Qasimi, who have worked closely together over the years, the latest Sharjah Biennial provides a platform to use their knowledge and understanding of the region’s art and artists to showcase an ambitious programme.
“This edition of the Sharjah Biennial is an attempt to address this: A proposition for how we could rethink this infrastructure called the biennial and whether we can rearrange parts of it to come up with a slightly adjusted whole,” said Tohmé.
“With Sharjah positioned in a unique way in the region, this edition of the Sharjah Biennial… will be creating unique permutations of artistic conversation and production from five different corners; becoming more of a blueprint for an innovative structure, than a large, centralised event,” she added.
Sheikha Hoor praised Tohmé’s “substantial contributions” to the development and direction of the cultural landscape in Sharjah and the Middle East, which she said have been recognised both regionally and internationally.
“She has been a close colleague for many years, participating as a speaker in numerous Sharjah Art Foundation March meetings and acting as jury member for the Sharjah Biennial Prize in 2011… We are confident that she will bring a compelling vision and perspective to the… biennial,” Sheikha Hoor said.
“I am equally interested in presenting young artists, as I am excited about inviting old friends whose work I have always found both relevant and strong,” Tohmé noted.
Sharjah Art Foundation was founded in 2009 by Sheikha Hoor, daughter of Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad al-Qasimi, ruler of Sharjah, to support artists and artistic practice in the United Arab Emirates via different platforms that include the Sharjah Biennial, the annual March meeting, art residencies, production grants, art exhibitions, artistic research and publications.