The 15th edition of the Sharjah Biennial, originally planned to take place in March 2021, is now scheduled for March 2022.
The 15th edition of the Sharjah Biennial was conceived by the scholar, critic and curator Okwui Enwezor (1963–2019) as a platform to reflect on the past 14 editions of the Biennial. In doing so, he envisioned the initiative as a model for disrupting the power of artistic monolingualism, and as a theoretical and physical space for ‘Thinking Historically in the Present’. Reflecting on his tremendous impact on contemporary art, Enwezor’s visionary work transformed contemporary art paradigms and laid out an ambitious intellectual project that influenced the evolution of institutions and biennials around the world, including the Sharjah Biennial. Enwezor saw the Sharjah Biennial as a model for displacing older, Western-based biennials by offering a critical alternative that was committed to the future of the art exhibition as a relevant platform for engaging with history, politics and society in our global present. Sharjah Biennial 15 (SB15) serves as a platform for further exploration and meditation on Enwezor’s curatorial and intellectual legacy.
The title and theme of SB15, scheduled to open in March 2022, draws on Enwezor’s work on the Postcolonial Constellation, which serves as the Biennial’s conceptual armature and foundation. Developed in his critical writing and plans for a museum exhibition conceived as part of a trilogy reframing twentieth-century art history, this idea and project proposes that the critical purview of the two-decades between 1960 and 1980—from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas and the Middle East to the Pacific—were not predicated on narratives of formation associated with new liberated national frontiers and independent nation states. Rather, Enwezor argued that the analysis of the period must be approached from the granular perspective of emergent counter-sovereignties, collectives and solidarities. This endeavour examined how the prospects of small-scale struggles took the entire organisation of the modern system as its target in order to decolonise ordinary people’s relationship to the entrenched apparatuses in everyday life.
Setting the stage for SB15, the 2021 edition of the Foundation’s annual March Meeting took place from 12 to 21 March. Titled ‘Unravelling the Present’, it looked back on the past 30 years of the Sharjah Biennial by bringing together former curators, artistic directors and artists as well art historians and critics to examine the role, place and impact of the Biennial in the region and in the global contemporary art scene. The 2022 edition of March Meeting will be organised as part of the Biennial, providing an opportunity to delve further into questions explored in the biennial.
SB15 will be curated by Hoor Al Qasimi, Director of Sharjah Art Foundation, in collaboration with the SB15 Working Group of Enwezor’s longtime collaborators: Tarek Abou El Fetouh (independent curator); Ute Meta Bauer (professor and Founding Director of NTU CCA Singapore); Salah M. Hassan (professor and art historian, Cornell University, and Director of Africa Institute, Sharjah); Chika Okeke-Agulu (professor and art historian, Princeton University); as well as independent curator, art writer and Executive Director of the Cuban Art Foundation Octavio Zaya. Al Qasimi and the Working Group will oversee the development and implementation of the biennial with an Advisory Committee that includes Sir David Adjaye (architect), and Christine Tohmé (director, Ashkal Alwan, Beirut).
Hoor Al Qasimi
Hoor Al Qasimi is President and Director of Sharjah Art Foundation. Her recent curatorial projects include solo exhibitions of the works of Tarek Atoui (2020), Zarina Bhimji (2020), 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 the second Lahore Biennale (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 was also a member of the Prince Claus Award Committee (2016–2020).
SB15 Working Group
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).
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.
SB15 Advisory Committee
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.
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