Akram Zaatari, On Photography, Dispossession and Times of Struggle, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Sfeir-Semler, kurimazutto and Thomas Dane and Galleries.

Sharjah Art Foundation presents the exhibition Akram Zaatari: Against Photography. An Annotated History of the Arab Image Foundation. Running from 27 September 2019 through 10 January 2020, this exhibition reflects on the evolution of the Arab Image Foundation (AIF) and its collections through the work and contributions of its co-founder Akram Zaatari. The exhibition opening will be accompanied by a talk between the artist and the curator, followed by a curator-led tour. Further details are available on the foundation’s website.

Since 1995, photographic objects have been the centre of Akram Zaatari’s artistic practice. They represent photographs and all what relates to their material being. Enigmatic objects that reach us bearing traces of past events. We grasp part of their histories, but much of it remains unknown although they accompany people through key moments in their lives. Cherished at times, destroyed at others, photographs are capable of provoking diverse and extreme reactions. Initially produced as instant captures, they transform over time. The perception of the image changes with time, but sometimes the object itself is physically altered as a result of its natural, social and political environments.

The desire to own photographs, to look for them and collect them, is rooted in a spectrum of motivations ranging from the personal to the scientific, the historical or the commercial. Objects of desire at first, photographs quickly become currency in a larger regime of emotion, enquiry or the accumulation of cultural goods that is not immune to capital and power.

In 1997, Zaatari co-founded the AIF, partly to contain and regulate the activity of collecting photographs, but also to organise the collection within an institutional framework and expand it through multiple modes of acquisition. AIF lies in the critical intersection of two archival practices: institutional and artistic. Over the past twenty years, AIF has been the medium through which many of Zaatari’s projects and interests have been developed.

Against Photography traces Zaatari’s various contributions to expanding our understanding of photography, its function and universe, through photographic research on one hand, and through the study of the evolution of the AIF, its collections and the debates triggered within it in the past twenty years.

In the exhibition, the AIF collection unfolds through selected works of significance to the artist. Some photographs presented here depict a surging modernity in the Arab world through self-representation in front of a camera, this new invention accessible in the beginning only to a privileged few, and to the majority in the fifties. Other works focus on what Zaatari calls photographic formations or emergences, which are the traces that time leaves on the material of photographs. These works suggest that the photographic image contains multiple histories. If the instant represented in a photograph point at a history, the curls and other traces recorded on a photograph’s body point at another history.

The AIF collection unfolds through the graphic, textual and filmic mapping of its contents. An abstraction of AIF’s cool storage room represents the spatial constraints that have governed its organisational measures, while a schematic map details the collections by volume and countries of origin. Accompanying the map is The Book of All Collections, which tells the story behind each collection. Two films look at photographic objects as containers and narrators of personal histories, evoking the clinical environment imposed on them by standard conservation measures and raising the problematics of the displacement of photographs away from their original environments.

Akram Zaatari produces videos, installations of photographic material and books on a range of interconnected themes, subjects and practices related to excavation, political resistance and the production and circulation of images in times of war. His works are part of the permanent collections of the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Serralves Foundation, Porto, Portugal; Tate Modern, London and Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis, US, among others.

Born in 1966 in Saida, the artist currently lives and works in Beirut.

Organised by Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, in collaboration with Sharjah Art Foundation, this exhibition is curated by Hiuwai Chu (Curator, MACBA) and Bartomeu Mari (Director, MALI, Lima). It was previously presented at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul (2018); K21, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf (2017); and Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (2017). For more information, visit

This exhibition is part of Sharjah Art Foundation’s autumn season. Also open this month on 27 September are the exhibitions Lasting Impressions: Adam Henein and ’32: The Rescore, the second annual Air Arabia Curator in Residence Exhibition. The three September shows will be followed by the openings of Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Sunset, Sunrise, Bani Abidi: Funland, and March Project 2019 Exhibition (12 October); Marwan Rechmaoui: Slanted Squares (2 November); and SHARJAPAN2 (20 December). This season will also see the second editions of the annual art book fair FOCAL POINT and the annual film festival Sharjah Film Platform (SFP). Visit to learn more about the foundation’s upcoming exhibitions and events.