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The 2003 edition of the Sharjah Biennial plays a key role in the history of the event, which has been held since 1993. In the first five editions, painting, printmaking and sculpture in a more traditional concept of art, and within a narrower regional scope prevailed.
When in 2002 Hoor Al Qasimi visited documenta 11 in Kassel, curated by Okwui Enwezor and his team, she was deeply impressed, envisioning a similar expansion of the artistic and geographical horizons for her home biennial. In order to achieve this, the then 22-year-old had to assume responsibility of the biennial's direction herself. Together with Peter Lewis as curator, and thanks to curatorial and advisory support from various parts of the world, an exhibition with 117 participants from 25 countries came about that could meet her high expectations. It is clear now in retrospective that with the Sharjah Biennial 2003, Hoor Al Qasimi and her team indeed succeeded in their ambitious goal of introducing a 'new era for contemporary art in the Gulf'.
Consequently, the 6th Sharjah Biennial of 2003 will certainly receive particular attention when the concept of Okwui Enwezor (1963 - 2019) for the SB15 is prepared throughout this year, and realized in 2021. Under the title "Thinking Historically in the Present", the impact of the fourteen previous editions of the Sharjah Biennial will be analyzed in order to reflect on current art developments and the future of the biennial model. At Enwezor's special request, this is being done under the direction of Hoor Al Qasimi as co-curator in cooperation with a working group of some of his longtime collaborators.
When the 6th Sharjah Biennial began in early April 2003, the Iraq war was in full swing, which is why only very few guests from other parts of the world came to the opening. Universes in Universe was lucky to be there and experience this pioneering edition. With our extensive photo report in three languages, we were able to contribute significantly to making the Sharjah Biennial 2003 internationally known. But the possibilities of our static website, common at the time, were limited and not geared towards mobile devices.
For this reason we have now entirely renewed the documentation of this historically significant biennial, complementing it with some videos as well. Featured are works by 68 participants at the two exhibition venues. Unfortunately, we are no longer able to include some of the artists, since high monthly (!) royalties would be demanded from their agencies if we publish our photos of their works.
8 April - 8 May 2003
Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
Expo Centre Sharjah, Sharjah Art Museum
Director: Hoor Al Qasimi
Curator: Peter Lewis
In cooperation with curators from several countries
117 artists and groups from 25 countries
(Director of the Directorate of Arts, Sharjah Department of Culture and Information)
9 - 11 April 2003
Art In A Changing Horizon - Globalization and New Aesthetic Practice
Cordinator: Talal Moualla
Sharjah Department of Culture and Information under the patronage of His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Member of the UAE Supreme Council, Ruler of Sharjah.
Sharjah Art Foundation is an advocate, catalyst, and producer of contemporary art within the Emirate of Sharjah and the surrounding region, in dialogue with the international arts community. Under the leadership of founder Hoor Al Qasimi, a curator and artist, the foundation advances an experimental and wide-ranging programmatic model that supports the production and presentation of contemporary art, preserves and celebrates the distinct culture of the region, and encourages a shared understanding of the transformational role of art.
The foundation’s core initiatives include the long-running Sharjah Biennial, featuring contemporary artists from around the world; the annual March Meeting, a convening of international arts professionals and artists; grants and residencies for artists, curators, and cultural producers; ambitious and experimental commissions; and a range of travelling exhibitions and scholarly publications.
Established in 2009 to expand programmes beyond the Sharjah Biennial, which launched in 1993, the foundation is a critical resource for artists and cultural organisations in the Gulf and a conduit for local, regional, and international developments in contemporary art.
The foundation’s deep commitment to developing and sustaining the cultural life and heritage of Sharjah is reflected through year-round exhibitions, performances, screenings and educational programmes in the city of Sharjah and across the Emirate, often hosted in historic buildings that have been repurposed as cultural and community centres.
A growing collection reflects the foundation’s support of contemporary artists in the realisation of new work and its recognition of the contributions made by pioneering modern artists from the region and around the world.
Sharjah Art Foundation is a legally independent public body established by Emiri Decree and supported by government funding, grants from national and international nonprofits and cultural organisations, corporate sponsors, and individual patrons. All events are free and open to the public.
Sharjah is the third-largest of the seven United Arab Emirates, and the only one bridging the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Reflecting the deep commitment to the arts, architectural preservation, and cultural education embraced by its ruler, Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Sharjah is home to more than 20 museums and has long been known as a hub of culture in the United Arab Emirates. In 1998, it was named UNESCO's “Arab Capital of Culture” and was designated the UNESCO “World Book Capital” for the year 2019.
See also the review:
Antonia Carver about SB 6, 2003
Summary of information: Universes in Universe
© Cover image on top: Mohammed Kazem, from the series 'Autobiography', 1997
© Photos & videos: Haupt & Binder, Universes in Universe