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The 14th edition of the Sharjah Biennial (SB14), Leaving the Echo Chamber, explores the possibilities and purpose of producing art when news is fed by a monopoly of sources, history is increasingly fictionalised, when ideas of ‘society’ are invariably displaced, when borders and beliefs are dictated by cultural, social and political systems. Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF) features over 80 established and emerging artists from around the globe (see the list of participants), including over 60 new commissions, as well as many never-before-seen works.
Curators Zoe Butt, Omar Kholeif and Claire Tancons, who have collaboratively conceived the SB14 theme, present three distinct exhibitions bringing together a range of experiences and works to create a series of provocations about how one might re-negotiate the shape, form, and function of the "echo chamber" of contemporary life, towards a multiplying of the echoes within, such vibration representative of the vast forms of human production —its rituals, beliefs and customs.
Butt, Kholeif, and Tancons also spearhead three distinct programmatic approaches for SAF’s March Meeting, an annual convening of local and international artists, curators, scholars and other arts practitioners who explore topical issues in contemporary art through a programme of talks and performances. March Meeting 2019 coincides with the opening of SB14, see the full programme.
"Contemporary life is dominated by competing information and fluctuating histories—a reality that raises important questions about the trajectory of contemporary art as well as the conditions in which it is made," said Hoor Al Qasimi, Director of Sharjah Art Foundation. "Zoe Butt, Omar Kholeif and Claire Tancons bring incredibly different perspectives to these questions and together represent the complexity of challenges faced by today’s artists and society as a whole. The aim of Sharjah Biennial 14 is to deepen the context of these questions through thought-provoking and often experiential works of art, and this year’s March Meeting will complement and provide opportunities to explore these works and the Biennial theme more deeply."
On view in buildings and courtyards across the city’s arts and heritage areas, as well as in SAF’s studios in Al Hamriyah, in the East Coast city of Kalba and other spaces in Sharjah, Leaving the Echo Chamber explores subjects ranging from migration and diaspora, to concepts of time and interpreted histories —giving artists the agency to explore stories that echo in a different way, revealing differing means of connecting, surviving and sustaining a collective humanity.
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.