When we brought the fifth Sharjah Biennial into our exhibition
calendar in 2001, it seemed odd to us that it was only meant to last
a week. However, questions to the organizers went unanswered, and more
exact information was nowhere to be found.
Things went differently with this year’s biennial. Directly after
curator Peter Lewis contacted us himself, we received press materials
and were already able to publish the first preview information in February.
The new director, Hoor Al Qasimi, took it upon herself to personally
keep us updated. She is indeed the driving force behind the new orientation
of the Sharjah Biennial, strongly supported by her father, His Highness
Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Member of the UAE Supreme
Council, Ruler of Sharjah.
Hoor Al Qasimi is but 23 years old and studies art in London. She told
us that she returned home last year deeply impressed by Documenta 11,
and gave a lot of thought as to how the narrow horizon of the local
biennial could be broadened. She was encouraged by her father to engage
herself in the effort. By the time she could finally gain respect for
her own ideas, after the dissolution of the former biennial committee,
there were only 5 months left for the preparation of her first exhibition
ever. For this she brought in Peter Lewis from London as chief curator.
Thanks to the invitation to participate in the symposium we could see
the result for ourselves, and it was absolutely on the level of other,
more established biennials. In our report we would like to convey a
sense of that.
We asked Antonia Carver, who lives in Dubai (only 20 km from Sharjah),
and who therefore has an insider‘s perspective, for an assessment
of the biennial and its reception in the Gulf region. Supplementary
information on individual works can be found in our photographic grand
tour, in which 71 of the 117 participants are represented. Our selection
should not necessarily be understood as a valuation. Due to technical
or other reasons, we were unable to capture a portion of the works we
would have liked to have shown. These include some of the numerous videos.
The many visitors to our website from Latin America will ask themselves
why more artists from that region are not present. Actually, the curators
only included one (Demián Flores Cortés from Mexico),
even though Latin America certainly has a lot to offer their sought-after
“discourses between aesthetics and politics”. In contrast,
the excessive number of artists from Great Britain is striking (we counted
22), which can hardly be due to the conceptual deliberations of the
For the future, one wishes for more consistency in the implementation
of the self-proclaimed goals. The new director of the biennial and her
curator have already explained that they see a fundamental focus of
the biennial in the presentation of "new art practices" from
the Gulf region and the Arab world within the context of the global
art scene. And indeed, here may lie Sharjahs greatest chance in the
battle between the world’s art events for the attention of the
(Translation: Holly Austin)