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This exhibition of work from the Sharjah Art Foundation’s growing collection presents a range of artistic responses to some of the most pressing issues we are faced with today. The personal and social cost of rapid economic and urban development, the struggle with a past that confronts a corrupt and changing present, and notions of individual and collective resistance and survival in the face of stagnant political or social situations, are some of the topics explored in these videos and installations, most of which were originally shown in previous Sharjah Biennials between 2003 to 2011.
We are living in a world where the glut of radical violence is often performed in the name of judiciousness, enlightenment and utopia. This paradox is critically and creatively explored in the work of the artists included in this exhibition.
Sharif Waked’s To be continued... references martyrdom videos. It explores temporality and death, eternally delaying the seemingly inevitable loss, and almost mirroring the feeling of uncertainty that occupies the lives of Palestinians. In Rashid Masharawi’s Shahrazad, the artist examines the sensation of waiting and feeling trapped in a stagnant routine - a characteristic element of the Palestinian situation, which involves constant revolt but also resistance grounded in the cultivation of immunity to a dismal environment marked by countless defeats. Ayreen Anastas and René Gabri travelled throughout Palestine and Israel researching this ‘Palestinian situation’. They created What Everyone Knows, a series of videos that document their encounters with people struggling and resisting, yet surviving. These encounters provoke discussion about the social and political features of contemporary life for Palestinians in Occupied Palestine. In her work, Raeda Saadeh focuses on her experiences as a Palestinian affected by the Israeli occupation. She uses her own body to critique and challenge the oppressive political occupation of Palestinian territory. In Vacuum, Saadeh emphasises the inanity of our tendency to preoccupy ourselves with tedious, repetitive tasks that distract from deep-seated issues which are not as easy to ‘clean up’. This preoccupation with the mundane is also referenced in Moataz Nasr’s Echo, which shows how in spite of the progress made by Egyptian society over the years, many of the shortcomings of its past have persisted.
Jayce Salloum collects personal oral narratives in an attempt to document the testimonies of displaced, disenfranchised and politically victimised people and activists in places such as Lebanon and the former Yugoslavia. Mario Rizzi also explores these identities. In Out of Place, he films second-generation emigrants in Paris as they grapple with feelings of displacement. Rizzi eschews a more conventional approach to the portrayal of emigrants’ lives, with its focus on the dichotomy between alienation and integration and the disenfranchised. Rather, he chooses to feature academics and white-collar workers, and to explore the ways they meander between two cultural existences.
In Domestic Tourism II, Maha Maamoun re-appropriates the national symbol of the pyramids, and through it Egypt’s image, from the simplification and glorification of touristic postcards, commercials and Hollywood films. She highlights the stark difference between the way a country is ‘marketed’ to and therefore perceived by the outside world and the way in which the local population experiences it. In his work, Männergeschichten (Male Stories), Marcel Odenbach investigates rituals of maleness and reflects on pride, vanity and personal freedom. The video explores how an individual can become imprisoned within his or her own cultural values, and examines the struggle against oppression, practices of ‘othering’ and the ritualisation of heritage and tradition.
Muratbek Djumaliev and Gulnara Kasmalieva explore the contemporary political and economic realities of former Soviet States such as their homeland of Kyrgyzstan. Into the Future offers a meditation on the effects of progress and metamorphosis. The film provokes questions about how we deal with the transition into the future, and points to the discrepancy between how we often picture it and how it alternatively manifests in reality. Similarly, Liu Wei’s Hopeless Lands explores the consequences of Beijing’s rapid economic development. His work, which engages with the peripheral identities that form within a wider culture, often critiques social manifestations of corruption, excess and violence. Wei’s disturbing work asks, what will become of the future if the path towards it is lined with excess.
Artists Nikolaj Larsen and Melik Ohanian explore the lives of migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates. In Rendezvous, Larsen attempts to capture the accumulated emotion contained within the abstract space that divides these workers from their families back home. Melik Ohanian’s In DAYS, I See what I Saw and what I will See, was filmed over 11 days in the China Labour Camp in Sajaa, Sharjah. In this film, the artist explores the possibility of producing a continuous representation of space and a discontinuous representation of time simultaneously.
Jean-Luc Moulène’s La Vigie is a photographic work that takes as its subject a stalk of the Paulownia tomentosa plant which the artist noticed growing through a crack in the asphalt in Paris next to the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Employment building. La Vigie traces the plant’s evolution over the course of seven years. The constantly changing urban layout of barricades, stanchions, and bollards is juxtaposed with the watchful stance of the plant, a foreign element hidden within the cityscape and developing despite being rooted in an environment unsuitable for its healthy growth.
Collectively, these works engage with the ongoing period of tumultuous transformation our world is currently mired in. They explore the effects of modernisation, experiences of violence and terror, and the feeling of being imprisoned by a faceless system resistant to change, which shape the lives and subjectivities of contemporary individuals. Problematising the promise of a better future and challenging nostalgic references to glorious histories, they work to cultivate a historical consciousness and a critical engagement with the past.
Hoor Al Qasimi
Artist and curator. President and Director of the Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE.
In Spite of it All
3 November 2012 - 3 January 2013
United Arab Emirates
Curated by Sharjah Art Foundation President and Director Hoor Al-Qasimi