SAF stretches its March Meeting

Sharjah Art Foundation has reacted impressively to a truncated and somewhat depressed art scene today in 2020 with a spring 2021 programme loaded with back-to-normality-only-better interest.

There are major solo shows exploring the work of an influential artist from the MENASA region, the first Sharjah Art Foundation Collection exhibition to be held in the recently renovated Flying Saucer, the third international collaboration to present the Foundation’s expansive Hassan Sharif retrospective to a global audience, and the return of the annual March Meeting in an expanded hybrid format.

More March Meeting

The 2020 edition of March Meeting was postponed, of course. Usually organised as a hectic three-day event, MM 2021 will run for a considerably more expansive ten days from 12 to 21 March and across two sites as well as online. The principle remains the same – issues in contemporary art are explored in colloquium format by artists, curators and other art ecosystem denizens (and indeed anyone who cares to apply to a ticket).

This March Meeting’s theme – Unravelling the Present – looks very timely. The international art fair / art biennial infrastructure has been clobbered by the pandemic in the past nine months, with multiple cancellations, postponements, and adaptations. It’s a good opportunity to consider what a biennial is actually for in these times, and how best biennials can function in these newly unravelled circumstances.

MM 2021 is a effectively the start of the run up to Sharjah Biennial 15, which opens in spring 2022 with the title Thinking Historically in the Present (another prescient choice). MM will start by looking back over the last 30 years of Sharjah Biennials; it features a number of former SB curators, artistic directors, art historians, critics, and yes artists too, all considering the role and impact of Sharjah’s Biennial and biennials generally. Just how relevant are they as a vehicle for engaging with history, politics and society? And just how can they shape our global present?

The details will follow, but for now you can register to receive updates about March Meeting 2021 via this link.

On show

The two major new SAF exhibitions look particularly strong.

Rayyane Tabet: Exquisite Corpse features newly commissioned works and reconceived presentations from FRAGMENTS, the artist’s ambitious ongoing project.

It pivots on an archaeological excavation led by German diplomat Baron Max von Oppenheim in Tell Halaf, northeast Syria. At the turn of the twentieth century Tabet’s great-grandfather worked as von Oppenheim’s secretary for six months in 1929, a few years after Western powers had carved up the region. Following this familial connection, Tabet has developed works that engage with family heirlooms and archaeological artefacts through accidents of history – across time, generations and continents. Curated by Ryan Inouye, Senior Curator at SAF, this project looks at the fallout of an era that looms large over current discussions of cultural appropriation, museological practice and freedom of movement.

Many of the works to be shown have somehow been contested, for example, because of provenance or origin; Unsettled Objects encourages viewers to ask questions and make connections. Where do these objects come from? Are the keepers of these entities entitled to hold them, and if so, under what jurisdiction?

William Kentridge, Zeno Writing (still from 12 min video, 2002). Part of SB6 (2003) Zeno Writing will be part of the exhibition Unsettled Objects (12 March to 15 June 2021)

The first presentation of the Sharjah Art Foundation Collection to be held in the newly renovated Flying Saucer, Unsettled Objects is curated by Omar Kholeif, SAF’s Director of Collections and Senior Curator. Designed to create conversations through thought-provoking individual experiences, it is made up of newly acquired or rarely seen works from the Sharjah Art Foundation Collection that question the impact of the colonial mindset; the title is actually taken from a major new acquisition by the late Lothar Baumgarten, Unsettled Objects (1968–1969), a slide carousel projection that unfolds the hidden characteristics behind the foundational artefacts of Western museum collections.

The two current shows – Tarek Atoui: Cycles in 11 and Zarina Bhimji: Black Pocket – continue to 10 April. In addition, the Foundation’s landmark retrospective Hassan Sharif: I Am The Single Work Artist, originally on view in Sharjah (2017–2018) and then travelling to Berlin and Malmö, arrives at Saint-Étienne’s Musée d’art moderne et contemporain in March 2021 for a seven-month stopover.

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