The 6th Sharjah Biennial hosts 118 artists from 25 countries, in April. International Art Biennials have a long history. Venice is celebrating its 50th in June this year, as the original Biennial. Venice established certain protocols for the exhibition of international art.
Sharjah, over 12 years, has followed its mode, its remit to survey the art being made in both Arab countries and in the Islamic world, contextualized by inclusion of practices that operate outside that world, Sharjah had categorized like Venice, artists' participation in terms of their national identity.
The 6th Biennial allocates further debate, neither inside, nor outside the terms of nationality, but along the borders in - between, in the deposition of these distinct categories of country, by the identities presented in the index of new art practices. This extended category (art) is often itself too indistinct, or general a term, to enable what is radical, or different to be recognized.
The academic aim of the Biennial is to locate culture; to search out and identify new developments; of interdiscipline and collaboration. Politics, allied to popular culture, and ecology, as a discourse, are often key issues in the concerns and productions of all youthful manifestation, including art, as the activity of a new generation, as the idealism that will provide the creative energy to engage ethically with its society and in the world.
Artists in particular are notable for declaring their enthusiasm by their work. This is evidence of their humanity. In actively pursuing the diversity and delicate strands of these social and human aspects of artistic activity we find ourselves engaged in a complex system, within an unsettling time of change and its inter-cultural transformation. The location of this process is diffuse. The 6th Biennial has aimed at the location of culture via a survey of the conditions for, and evidence of, 1 wart. It reveals constants: the recurring themes, anxieties, and hopes of people's wish for community as expressed in the sensitive terms of a new situation and the aesthetic that 'herein emerges.
We decided in this Biennial to embrace these practices, not so much as a new idea or new Imagery, but as the contemporary situation that announces the social in terms of a renewal of emotion and human value, in the aesthetic. This is also argued for in the theory of its art not necessarily in advance of the emergence of difference. The conditions essential for art to flourish have recently been placed in the arena, and we see from an intellectual viewpoint that the Biennial performs as a gesture of empathy with peoples, and of the importance of art in its capacity to aid understanding and peace. Art is not essentially political, but does have an intellectual responsibility which 'reflects' contingencies. The Enlightenment model for art and its required distance may have comforted the audience at a correct critical perspective, or ambivalently, disturbed and distorted the space of aesthetic understanding. Postmodernity further fragments the illusory space where there are no solid forms or theories for understanding. The 6th Biennial addresses the issue of the understood, phenomenal world in works where the subject is not given, and has been progressively displaced.
The work that has been selected, or commissioned, or made specifically for the Biennial Comes with this sense of responsibility to art's philosophy and progress. The expansion of practices to include the political and social dimensions of the everyday and personal has recruited literature, .cinema and performance as the agenda proper to an art of the present. The experimental nature of much of the work in the Biennial attests to the significance of the subject position immersed in technology. Art, literature, music, architecture, dance, theatre, these most urbane of cultural contexts have been amplified in its single dialect. The European avant-garde is also now arguably at an end in arbitrating aesthetic judgement. The 6th Biennial seeks to address and reclaim for its public a negotiatory role which can then be expanded into the holistic sense of art's global circulation and communities. The Biennial is a platform for public and artist alike to meet and to assess these kinds of relationships. How these develop is not yet clear nor immediately open to interpretation. We have just begun a process that goes further than merely raising these issues for debate. In the global milieu, the characteristics of place and time suffer neglect, and hostility can emerge through an accumulated lack of tolerance to the contexts of temporality and geography. These cautions are anticipated by artists in the Biennial, as also the responsibility of an audience, mediated by both artist and public as joined co-workers.
We have the pleasure of standing as the host, having invited international curators as also the intermediaries of these developments. In sense we also take great pride in the city itself and its cultural role. Heritage itself, in the sense of unanticipated globalization, may have been disturbed, obscured, swallowed up or recuperated. The past can play a constructive part in the present by excavating a space in the developing urban terrain for experimentation and renewal. The Biennial has selected artists on the basis of relocating culture within its aesthetic experiment.
Art and its institution implicitly requires the tolerance of education and its intellectual freedom, as the raison d'etre of its study and research. It is highly appropriate therefore that in not only difficult, but peaceful times we bring forward the educational and ethical procedures that are attached to the field of art and aesthetics.
We would like to thank all the team, selected for their particular skills in the delegation of new practices of art, and in terms of histories, of bringing different generations of practice together at one time. Sharjah Biennial 6 is innovatory as it has placed the commissioning of work at its core. Specific "artists' projects" also require sensitive arrangements for transition to Sharjah from one specific context to another, whether it be paintings from Bangladesh or Mexico, jigsaw puzzles from an English village or a robot painting machine from New York. Translators, writers, and intellectuals from the Arab world and from its art communities in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi-Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain have looked forward to the 6th Biennial as one of opportune and significant meeting at this time in the Arab world, and as a discursive forum in the contemporary international debates of particular concern to Arab intellectual life and its circulation.
The critic would question that art is always a means to see differently and a tool to bring change. In order to presage advances that are either unforeseeable from other more formal disciplines, or else cannot be generated by other alliances (of science and technology, for example, or economics and sociology) we propose these new aesthetic situations that advance interdisciplinary formats, especially witnessed in the work of this present time and generation.
Hoor AI Qasimi
President and Director of Sharjah Art Foundation