Sharjah Biennial 13 promises to be unlike previous iterations

Sunday 11/12/2016
Christine Tohmé, curator of Sharjah Biennial. (Photo by Tarek Mokaddem)

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.