Making the most of March: meet up in Sharjah

Sharjah Art Foundation has cemented the emirate’s place in the contemporary art ecosystem primarily through two initiatives: the Sharjah Biennial (and the associated collection of works acquired after various SBs) and the annual March Meeting, its gathering of artists, curators and practitioners to explore critical issues in contemporary art through panels, lectures and performances.

This year’s March Meeting is an expanded 10-day hybrid onsite/online programme running from 12 to 21 March. It serves as the launch of Sharjah Biennial 15, Thinking Historically in the Present (which actually opens now in spring 2022); MM2021 itself gets the title Unravelling the Present and aims to provide a starting point for developing a theoretical space for thinking historically in the present.

In practice, and in light of the imminent post-pandemic, this means a perhaps more practical assessment of the whole biennial model and its future via a survey of the 30-year past of the Sharjah Biennial – in particular, taking the Sharjah Biennial as a model for dealing with the disruptive power of artistic monolingualism

Who’s who

The list of speakers and participants is genuinely impressive – but then it usually is. The leader will of course be Hoor Al Qasimi, President and Director of Sharjah Art Foundation but also President of the International Biennial Association.

Then there’s a roll call of luminaries from around the globe. The bias is towards curators, gallerists and organisers, which is as it should be; but the mix is leavened by a few artists, and while the intake is heavily international in feel (again, as it should be) there’s a selection of UAE-based arts bigwigs like Reem Fadda from the Cultural Foundation and Omar Kholeif from Sharjah Arts Foundation.

Maybe there’s a couple of local omissions – no-one from NYUAD Arts Gallery or the Jameel, no-one from Art Jameel or Misk or other Saudi institutions – but we did a quick scan of the guest list and we reckon there are associations of one kind or another with more than three dozen biennials and similar events over the years.

From Sharjah:

  • Yousif Aydabi Cultural Advisor, Sheikh Dr Sultan Al Qasimi Centre)
  • Salah Hassan Director, The Africa Institute
  • Omar Kholeif Director of Collections and Senior Curator, Sharjah Art Foundation
  • Hisham Al Madhloum Chairman, Sharjah Arts Collection
  • Noora Al Mualla Director of Learning and Research, Sharjah Art Foundation

From elsewhere:

  • Sammy Baloji artist, co-founder of Lubumbashi Biennale (Congo)
  • Ute Meta Bauer Director, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art (Singapore)
  • Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev Director, Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Lucrezia Cippitelli curator (Italy)
  • Iftikhar Dadi Associate Professor, History of Art, Cornell University
  • Catherine David Deputy Director, National Museum of Modern Art, Centre Pompidou
  • Bongiwe Dhlomo–Mautloa  artist, curator (South Africa)
  • Manthia Diawara filmmaker, Director of the Institute of Afro-American Affairs, NYU
  • Anita Dube artist, curator (India)
  • Ehab Ellaban Director, Center of Arts Cairo
  • Reem Fadda Director, Cultural Foundation (Abu Dhabi)
  • Tarek Abou El Fetouh curator, developer of many projects in the region, currently arts curator for Expo 2020 among other roles
  • Coco Fusco artist, writer and Professor at Cooper Union School of Art (New York)
  • Thembinkosi Goniwe artist and Assistant Professor of Art History, Rhodes University (South Africa)
  • Hou Hanru Artistic Director, MAXXI (China/Italy)
  • Yuko Hasegawa Artistic Director, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo and Professor at Tokyo University of the Arts (and curator of Sharjah Biennial 11)
  • Eungie Joo Curator of Contemporary Art, SFMOMA (and curator of Sharjah Biennial 12)
  • Geeta Kapur art critic, curator (India)
  • Vasif Kortun Curator (Turkey)
  • Adrian Lahoud Dean, School of Architecture, RCA (UK)
  • Peter Lewis Curator, educator (UK)
  • Arshiya Lokhandwala art historian, curator and founder, Lakeeren Art Gallery (India)
  • Margarita Gonzalez Lorente Vice Director, 13th edition of Havana Biennial and Curator, International Contemporary Art, National Museum of Fine Arts, Havana
  • Gabi Ngcobo curator, educator (South Africa)
  • Chika Okeke-Agulu Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Art & Archaeology, Princeton University
  • Jack Persekian Director, Al Ma’amal Foundation (Jerusalem – co-curator of Sharjah Biennial 7, artistic director of Sharjah Biennial 9)
  • Qudsia Rahim Director, Lahore Biennale
  • Enrique Rivera Director, Biennial of Media Arts of Santiago
  • Nada Shabout Professor, Art History and Coordinator, Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies Initiative, University of North Texas
  • Suha Shoman Founder and Chair, Darat Al Funun, The Khalid Shoman Foundation (Jordan)
  • Aisha Stoby curator, researcher (London)
  • Alia Swastika curator (Indonesia)
  • John Tain Head of Research, Asia Art Archive (Hong Kong)
  • Ming Tiampo Professor of Art History and Director of Institute for Comparative Studies in Literature, Art and Culture, Carleton University (Ottawa)
  • Christine Tohme Founding Director, Ashkal Alwan (Beirut – and curator of Sharjah Biennial 13)
  • Françoise Vergès author, historian, decolonial feminist (France)
  • Octavio Zaya Executive Director, Cuban Art Foundation
  • Tirdad Zolghadr Associate Curator, KW Institute for Contemporary Art (Berlin – and co-curator of Sharjah Biennial 7)


  • John Akomfrah UK
  • Thuraya Al Baqsami Kuwait
  • Zarina Bhimji Uganda/UK
  • Mohammed Kazem UAE
  • Mona Al Khaja UAE
  • Amina Menia Algeria
  • Otobong Nkanga Nigeria

What’s what

In addition to panels and lectures, the programme will include the opening of two good-looking exhibitions at SAF. Rayyane Tabet: Exquisite Corpse, curated by SAF Senior Curator Ryan Inouye, and Unsettled Objects, curated by SAF Director of Collections and Senior Curator Omar Kholeif, both open 12 March. The current show – Zarina Bhimji: Black Pocket, curated by SAF Director Hoor Al Qasimi – will also remain on view through to 10 April.

There will also be performances led by artist and musician Tarek Atoui and the artists and advisors participating in the residency programme that is taking place as part of Atoui’s ongoing solo exhibition Cycles in 11. Participants include Leyya Mona Tawil, Kristoffer Kjaerskov and Safeya Alblooshi (1 to 15 March), and Boris Shershenkov, Hadi Zeidan and Zeynab Ghandour  (14 to 23 March).

MM 2021 is free to attend, which makes it a real bargain as an opportunity to hear what’s sure to be some excellent thinking about the arts. To join in-person or online, pre-register here.

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