Sharjah Biennial’s 30-year anniversary

Al Hamriyah Studios

Sharjah Biennial 15: Thinking Historically in the Present opens next week with what looks like one of its richest ever programmes – including more than 300 artworks by (at our count) 159 artists and collectives from around the world, plus talks, performances, film screenings and more. It’s also geographically diverse, taking place in 19 venues across five cities and towns in Sharjah (Al Dhaid, Hamriyah, Kalba, and Khorfakkan as well as Sharjah city itself).

Conceived by the late Okwui Enwezor, Sharjah Biennial 15: Thinking Historically in the Present is curated by Sharjah Art Foundation’s director Hoor Al Qasimi.

Enwezor had been one of the most influential thinkers and curators in the art worlds, notably putting into practice a theory of art as an expression of social change, looking beyond American and European traditions (particularly to focus on art from Africa) and emphasising ideas rather than objects. For Enwezor, the contemporary art exhibition provided a means to engage with history, politics and society; his proposition of the ‘postcolonial constellation’ and its pluriverse of key concepts forms a key point of departure for the 15th edition of the Sharjah Biennial.

Hoor Al Qasimi has interpreted Enwezor’s proposal for SB15 with a selection of art – including 70 new works – that critically centre the past within contemporary times. She says that Okwui’s highly influential Documenta 11 (1998 to 2002) “transformed my curatorial perspective” with “its radical embrace of postcolonialism … 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.

Content, context

The 19 venues used for SB15 connect different moments of Sharjah’s history as well as its diverse communities and landscapes. Within the overarching theme of centring the past within the present, the 300 artworks offer a nuanced conversation around postcolonial subjectivity, memories, restitution, racialization, transgenerational continuities, and decolonisation.

Several major new commissions testify to the lingering aftereffects of colonialism, including works by John Akomfrah, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Doris Salcedo, Berni Searle and Barbara Walker. A feature-length film by Coco Fusco, an installation by Bouchra Khalili, multimedia work by Almagul Menlibayeva and a sound installation by Hajra Waheed all reimagine the political conflicts precipitated by the nation-building process.

Brook Andrew and Isaac Julien reflect upon museumised objects and their restitution; 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’s outdoor installation has the form of an archaeological find inspired by fact, myth and tales; 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 all have site-specific projects that recontextualise the old and new architecture of the Foundation.

Performances during the Biennial include work by Gabriela Golder, Hassan Hajjaj, Rachid Hedli, Tania El Khoury, The Living and the Dead Ensemble and Aline Motta.

Youssou N’Dour and Abdullah Ibrahim perform in March and April, and more performances will apparently be announced later.

March Meeting 2023

Coinciding with the Biennial, the Sharjah Art Foundation’s annual convening of artists, curators, scholars and arts practitioners from around the world to discuss issues in contemporary art falls during the Biennial and has a related, relevant theme – ‘the Postcolonial Constellation: Art, Culture, Politics after 1960’.

March Meeting 2023 will explore some of the systemic and structural shifts – political, social and economic – that have impacted the world since the 1960s. Under discussion will be concepts such as first nation and indigenous practices, creolisation, hybridity and supranational formations such as the Black Atlantic, diasporas, exile and statelessness, and artistic, ideological and philosophical perspectives on decolonisation.

The March Meeting performance programme includes Marwah AlMugait, Shiraz Bayjoo, Naiza Khan and Akeim Toussaint Buck.

Free and open to the public, Sharjah Biennial 15 runs to 11 June, and incorporates March Meeting 2023 on 9–12 March. More information including the daily schedule is here. Selected works below:

SB15 participating artists:

  • Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme
  • Maitha Abdalla
  • Fathi Afifi
  • Hoda Afshar
  • John Akomfrah
  • Moza Almatrooshi
  • Marwah AlMugait
  • Hangama Amiri
  • Brook Andrew
  • Malala Andrialavidrazana
  • Rushdi Anwar
  • Kader Attia
  • Au Sow Yee
  • Dana Awartani
  • Omar Badsha
  • Natalie Ball
  • Sammy Baloji
  • Mirna Bamieh
  • Pablo Bartholomew and Richard Bartholomew
  • Shiraz Bayjoo
  • Bahar Behbahani
  • Asma Belhamar
  • Rebecca Belmore
  • Black Grace
  • Diedrick Brackens
  • Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons
  • Cao Fei
  • Carolina Caycedo
  • Ali Cherri
  • Wook-Kyung Choi
  • Maya Cozier
  • Iftikhar Dadi and Elizabeth Dadi
  • Solmaz Daryani
  • Annalee Davis and Yoeri Guépin
  • Destiny Deacon
  • Manthia Diawara
  • Imane Djamil
  • Anju Dodiya
  • Kimathi Donkor
  • Heri Dono
  • Rehab Eldalil
  • Ali Eyal
  • Marianne Fahmy
  • Brenda Fajardo
  • Raheleh Filsoofi
  • Nina Fischer and Maroan el Sani
  • Coco Fusco
  • Flavia Gandolfo
  • Theaster Gates
  • Malek Gnaoui and Ala Eddine Slim
  • Gabriela Golder
  • Gabrielle Goliath
  • Yulia Grigoryants
  • Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige
  • Hassan Hajjaj
  • David Hammons
  • Archana Hande
  • Fathi Hassan
  • Mona Hatoum
  • Rachid Hedli
  • Lubaina Himid
  • Laura Huertas Millán
  • Saodat Ismailova
  • Isaac Julien
  • Saddam Jumaily
  • Patricia Kaersenhout
  • Robyn Kahukuiwa
  • Reena Saini Kallat
  • Hanni Kamaly
  • Amar Kanwar
  • Adam Khalil and Bayley Sweitzer with Oba
  • Bouchra Khalili
  • Naiza Khan
  • Tania El Khoury
  • Kiluanji Kia Henda
  • Ayoung Kim
  • Emily Kame Kngwarreye
  • Hiroji Kubota
  • Remi Kuforiji
  • Lee Kai Chung
  • Faustin Linyekula
  • The Living and the Dead Ensemble
  • Ibrahim Mahama
  • Nabil El Makhloufi
  • Jawad Al Malhi
  • Waheeda Malullah
  • Maharani Mancanagara
  • mandla
  • Lavanya Mani
  • Kerry James Marshall
  • Queenie McKenzie
  • Steve McQueen
  • Marisol Mendez
  • Almagul Menlibayeva
  • Helina Metaferia
  • Kimowan Metchewais
  • Meleanna Meyer
  • Joiri Minaya
  • Tahila Mintz
  • Roméo Mivekannin
  • Tracey Moffat
  • Aline Motta
  • Wangechi Mutu
  • Eubena Nampitjin
  • Dala Nasser
  • New Red Order
  • Pipo Nguyen-Duy
  • Mame-Diarra Niang
  • Shelley Niro
  • Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi
  • Elia Nurvista
  • Kambui Olujimi
  • Zohra Opoku
  • Selma Ouissi and Sofiane Ouissi
  • Erkan Özgen
  • Pak Khawateen Painting Club
  • Pushpakanthan Pakkiyarajah
  • Hyesoo Park
  • Philippe Parreno
  • Angela Ponce
  • Prajakta Potnis
  • Anita Pouchard Serra
  • Jasbir Puar and Dima Srouji
  • Monira Al Qadiri
  • Farah Al Qasimi
  • Nusra Latif Qureshi
  • Michael Rakowitz
  • Umar Rashid
  • Wendy Red Star
  • Veronica Ryan
  • Doris Salcedo
  • Abdulrahim Salem
  • Sangeeta Sandrasegar
  • Varunika Saraf
  • Khadija Saye
  • Berni Searle
  • Mithu Sen
  • Nelly Sethna
  • Aziza Shadenova
  • Smita Sharma
  • Nilima Sheikh
  • Yinka Shonibare
  • Felix Shumba
  • Semsar Siahaan
  • Mary Sibande
  • Kahurangiariki Smith
  • Mounira Al Solh
  • Inuuteq Storch
  • Vivan Sundaram
  • Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum
  • Obaid Suroor
  • Hank Willis Thomas
  • Akeim Toussaint Buck
  • Hajra Waheed
  • Barbara Walker
  • Wang Jianwei
  • Nari Ward
  • Carrie Mae Weems
  • Nil Yalter

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