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7 February - 11 June 2023
Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
Curated by Hoor Al Qasimi,
based on the concept of Okwui Enwezor who was invited to curate SB15 before his untimely passing in 2019
List of artists
Over 150 participants from more than 70 countries
March Meeting 2023:
The Postcolonial Constellation: Art, Culture, Politics after 1960
9 - 12 March 2023
Photos and information of works by almost all the participants at 17 venues
Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF) brings together over 150 artists and collectives from more than 70 countries for the 15th edition and 30-year anniversary of the Sharjah Biennial. Conceived by the late Okwui Enwezor and curated by the Foundation’s Director Hoor Al Qasimi, Sharjah Biennial 15: Thinking Historically in the Present reflects on Enwezor’s visionary work, which transformed contemporary art and has influenced the evolution of institutions and biennials around the world, including the Sharjah Biennial.
Al Qasimi interprets and elaborates on Enwezor’s proposal with a presentation of more than 300 artworks—including 70 new works—critically centring the past within contemporary times. These works, as well as a wide-ranging programme of performance, music and film, activate more than 18 venues in 5 cities and towns across the emirate of Sharjah: Al Dhaid, Hamriyah, Kalba, Khorfakkan and Sharjah. Among the many venues are sites within Sharjah’s historical quarter; buildings recently restored and transformed by the Foundation including The Flying Saucer and Kalba Ice Factory; and repurposed structures that once served as a vegetable market, medical clinic and kindergarten.
“Two decades ago, I experienced Okwui’s Documenta 11 which, with its radical embrace of postcolonialism, transformed my curatorial perspective. His idea of ‘thinking historically in the present’ is the conceptual framework for the Biennial, which we’ve sought to honour and elaborate on while also reflecting on the Foundation’s own past, present and future as the Biennial marks its 30-year anniversary. We look forward to welcoming local audiences and visitors from around the world to reflect on the Biennial’s themes and the artists’ wide-ranging perspectives on nationhood, tradition, race, gender, body and imagination,” said Al Qasimi.
For Enwezor, the contemporary art exhibition provided a means to engage with history, politics and society in our global present. Enwezor’s proposition of the ‘postcolonial constellation’ and its pluriverse of key concepts form one point of departure for the 15th edition of the Sharjah Biennial. Re-envisioning the proposal by the late curator, Al Qasimi builds upon her own long-term relationship with the Biennial, as visitor, artist, curator, and eventually as director of the Foundation.
The 19 venues spread across the emirate of Sharjah—from heritage buildings and historical landmarks to modern architecture of the late 1900s and contemporary spaces—connect different moments of Sharjah’s history as well as its diverse communities and landscapes. Through more than 300 artworks, the Biennial proposes a transcultural universe of thought embedded into this local social fabric, involving Sharjah’s own lived past in a nuanced conversation around postcolonial subjectivity, the body as a repository of memories, restitution, racialization, transgenerational continuities, and decolonisation. Rooted in intimate and caring observations of everyday lives and vernacular traditions, performances, concerts, workshops and other public programmes will activate the venues as well as regional art centers located in each city, forming a capillary reach across the emirate throughout the four-month duration of the Biennial.
Expanding upon Enwezor’s initial proposal, Al Qasimi has collaborated with artists to embark on more than 70 new works, including many major commissions, that relate and respond to SB15’s overarching theme of centering the past within the present, thereby bridging diverse postcolonial histories.
Major new commissions by John Akomfrah, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Doris Salcedo, Berni Searle and Barbara Walker testify to the lingering after-effects of colonialism. A feature-length film by Coco Fusco, installation by Bouchra Khalili, multimedia work by Almagul Menlibayeva and sound installation by Hajra Waheed reactivate and reimagine the political conflicts precipitated by the modern nation-building process.
Brook Andrew and Isaac Julien reflect upon museumised objects and their restitution, while Destiny Deacon, Robyn Kahukiwa and Tahila Mintz assert the significance of indigenous identities and values. In the works of Gabrielle Goliath, Amar Kanwar, Wangechi Mutu and Carrie Mae Weems, individual histories are interwoven with collective notions of memory, grief and transformation.
Also premiering in SB15 are works that engage with the local context of Sharjah. Kerry James Marshall proposes an outdoor installation in the form of an archaeological find inspired by fact, myth and tales, while Lubaina Himid and Nil Yalter dive into the urban fabric of Sharjah with their public interventions. Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, Asma Belhamar, Kambui Olujimi, Prajaka Potnis and Veronica Ryan present site-specific projects that converse with and recontextualise the old and new architecture of the Foundation.
Performances and theatrical presentations will be on offer throughout the Biennial. Gabriela Golder, Hassan Hajjaj, Rachid Hedli, Tania El Khoury, The Living and the Dead Ensemble and Aline Motta will activate their work during the opening week in February. In conjunction with the annual March Meeting, Marwah AlMugait, Shiraz Bayjoo, Naiza Khan and Akeim Toussaint Buck will perform in early March. Musical programmes featuring musicians Youssou N’Dour and Abdullah Ibrahim will follow in March and April, with additional performances to be announced later.
Thinking Historically in the Present is being realised by Al Qasimi as curator with support from the Sharjah Biennial 15 Working Group, which also supported the development and realisation of March Meeting 2021 and 2022. The Working Group is comprised of Tarek Abou El Fetouh (Director of Performance and Senior Curator, Sharjah Art Foundation); Ute Meta Bauer (professor and Founding Director of NTU CCA Singapore); Salah M Hassan (professor and art historian, Cornell University and Director of The Africa Institute, Sharjah); Chika Okeke-Agulu (professor and art historian, Princeton University); and Octavio Zaya (independent curator, art writer and Executive Director of the Cuban Art Foundation). The Advisory Committee includes Sir David Adjaye (architect) and Christine Tohmé (Director, Ashkal Alwan, Beirut).
Okwui Enwezor (1963, Calabar, Nigeria - 2019, Munich) was a curator, critic and art historian. Enwezor's curatorial projects alternated between ambitious international exhibitions that sought to define their moment and historically driven, encyclopedic museum shows. His major projects include the Venice Biennale (2015), Paris Triennale (2012), Gwangju Biennale (2008), Seville Biennial (2006) and documenta 11 (1998–2002), and he served as Artistic Director of the Second Johannesburg Biennale (1997). Enwezor's groundbreaking museum exhibitions include Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945–1965, Haus der Kunst, Munich (2016); Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life, International Center of Photography, New York (2012); Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art, International Center of Photography, New York (2008); Snap Judgments: New Positions in Contemporary African Photography, International Center of Photography, New York (2006); The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945–1994, Museum Villa Stuck, Munich (2001); and In/Sight: African Photographers, 1940–Present, Guggenheim Museum, New York (1996).
Enwezor served as Director, Haus der Kunst, Munich (2011–2018) and Dean of Academic Affairs and Senior Vice-President, San Francisco Art Institute (2005–2009). He was Global Distinguished Professor in the Department of Art History, New York University (2013) and Kirk Varnedoe Visiting Professor at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University (2012). Among his publications are Postwar: Art between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945–1965 (Prestel Publishing, 2017), which he co-edited; Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life (Prestel Publishing, 2013); Contemporary African Art Since 1980 (Damiani, 2010); Antinomies of Art and Culture: Modernity, Postmodernity, Contemporaneity (Duke University Press, 2009); and Reading the Contemporary: African Art from Theory to the Market (Iniva, 1999). In 1994, he co-founded NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art.
Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu. Courtesy of SAF
Hoor Al Qasimi is President and Director of Sharjah Art Foundation. Her recent curatorial projects include solo exhibitions of the works of Amal Kenawy (2018), Hassan Sharif (2017), Yayoi Kusama (2016), Robert Breer (2016), Farideh Lashai (2016), Rasheed Araeen (2014) and Susan Hefuna (2014). She was co-curator for Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige: Two Suns in a Sunset (2016) and major surveys such as When Art Becomes Liberty: The Egyptian Surrealists (1938 –1965) (2016) and The Khartoum School: The Making of the Modern Art Movement in Sudan (1945–Present) (2016–2017). Co-curator of Sharjah Biennial 6 (2003), she has since continued as Biennial Director. She curated the UAE National Pavilion, Venice Biennale (2015) and will serve as the curator of the second Lahore Biennale, opening in 2020.
President of the International Biennial Association; Chair of the Board, Sharjah Architecture Triennial; Chair of the Advisory Board, College of Fine Arts and Design, University of Sharjah; and President of The Africa Institute, Sharjah, Al Qasimi serves on the Board of Directors for MoMA PS1, New York; Kunst-Werke Berlin e. V.; and Ashkal Alwan, Beirut as well as advisory boards for Khoj, New Delhi and Darat al Funun, Amman. She is also a member of the Prince Claus Award Committee (2016–present).
Photo: Sebastian Böttcher. Courtesy of SAF
Tarek Abou El Fetouh is an independent curator who has developed conversations among practitioners within and beyond the Arab world through the establishment of major initiatives such as Meeting Points - Festival for Contemporary Arts and the Young Arab Theatre Fund (recently renamed Mophradat). He was one of the curators for Sharjah Biennial 9 (2009). Since 2022, he is Director of Performance and Senior Curator of the newly established SAF Performance Department.
Ute Meta Bauer is a curator, editor (Afterall magazine), Founding Director of the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore and a professor at the School of Art, Design and Media at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Salah M. Hassan is Director of The Africa Institute, Sharjah, UAE, and Goldwin Smith Professor in the Africana Studies and Research Center and the Department of the History of Art and Visual Studies, Cornell University, Ithaca, US. He is an art historian, art critic, curator and founding editor of Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art.
Chika Okeke-Agulu specializes in indigenous, modern and contemporary African and African Diaspora art history and theory. He is a professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University. He is co-editor of Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art and maintains the blog Ọfọdunka.
Octavio Zaya is an independent curator and writer, and is Executive Director of the Cuban Art Foundation. He serves on the advisory boards of the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA) and Performa, New York, and he is a member of the Editorial Board at Nka Journal of Contemporary African Art.
Sir David Adjaye OBE is recognized as a leading architect of his generation. In 2000, he formed his studio, Adjaye Associates, with offices in London, New York and Accra and projects spanning North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. His largest project to date, the $540 million Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, opened on the National Mall in Washington, DC in autumn 2016.
Christine Tohme is the Founding Director of Ashkal Alwan, a non-profit organization established in 1993 in Beirut that aims to support contemporary artistic and cultural practices through its numerous initiatives. She curated Sharjah Biennial 13: Tamawuj in 2017.
Video sequence from the symposium at Sharjah Biennial 2005
© Video: Binder & Haupt, universes.art
The recipients of this year’s Sharjah Biennial Prize are Bouchra Khalili, Doris Salcedo and Hajra Waheed for their outstanding contribution to Sharjah Biennial 15: ‘Thinking Historically in the Present’.
Artists Lee Kai Chung, Tania El Khoury, Gabriela Golder, Amar Kanwar, Joiri Minaya, Varunika Saraf and Ibrahim Mahama received special mentions.
Jury: Solange Farkas (Curator and Director of Videobrasil Cultural Association), Salwa Mikdadi (Professor of Art History and Director of the Arab Center for the Study of Art, NYU Abu Dhabi), Elvira Dyangani Ose (Director of Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona).
Sharjah Art Museum
Bait Obaid Al Shamsi
Bait Al Serkal
Bank Street Building
Al Mureijah Square
Old Al Jubail Vegetable Market
Khalid Bin Mohammed School
The Flying Saucer
Al Hamriyah Studios
Old Al Diwan Al Amiri
Old Al Dhaid Clinic
Sheikh Khalid Bin Mohammed Palace and Farm
Kalba Ice Factory
Khorfakkan Art Centre
Saturday - Thursday: 9:00 am - 9:00 pm
Friday: 4:00 pm - 9:00 pm
During Ramadan, 22 March - 21 April:
Saturday - Thursday: 9:00 am - 2:00 pm and 9:00 pm - 12:00 am
Friday: 9:00 pm to 12:00 am
The Biennial will remain open during the Eid Al Fitr holiday from 20 to 24 April.
The entrance is free.
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 Art Foundation
PO Box 19989
Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
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Sharjah Art Foundation:
Alyazeyah Al Marri - Email
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.
From information by the Sharjah Biennial.
© Cover photos on top: Haupt & Binder, Universes in Universe
First photo: Okwui Enwezor in Sharjah 2005