Sharjah Biennial 12

More than 50 artists from around the world will exhibit in the Emirate


Starting March 5 and running until June 5, the Sharjah Biennal 12 will enhance the emirate’s reputation as a hub of culture and creativity. This year it brings to the fore fresh ideas and concepts on urbanism, architecture, public art and identity.

Beginning with March Meeting 2014 and continuing through March Meeting 2015 (11–15 May), Sharjah Biennial 12: The past, the present, the possible (SB12) invites over 50 artists and cultural practitioners from more than 25 countries to introduce their ideas of the possible through their art and work.

Taking place in Sharjah, the exhibition criss-crosses the emirate to sites in and around the city, as well as to Kalba on the Gulf of Oman. Over two-thirds of the participating artists will present new works and commissions.

The premise of SB12 grew from a conversation between Danish-Vietnamese artist Danh Vo and curator Eungie Joo in early 2013 about the relevance of contemporary art and the potential of artistic positions to imagine something beyond current states of social and political confinement. Explaining the title of SB12, curator Eungie Joo said that it is a phrase from Henri Lefebvre’s essay ‘The Right to the City’, which when translated from the original French reads, ‘The past, the present, the possible cannot be separated.’ Joo wanted to present works that stepped away from the burden of the past and the nostalgic and focused instead on the present.

The artists
SB12 features new work and commissions by 36 artists and groups curated by Eungie Joo with associate curator Ryan Inouye. Among these are Haegue Yang, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Basel Abbas, Ruanne Abou-Rahme, Etel Adnan, Babak Afrassiabi, Abdullah Al Saadi, Rheim Alkadhi, Ayreen Anastas, Leonor Antunes, Uriel Barthélémi, Mark Bradford, Unnikrishnan C., Chimurenga, Nikhil Chopra and Abraham Cruzvillegas.

Art spaces
The Flying Saucer complex on Sheikh Humaid Bin Saqr Street was constructed in the 1970s. A Sharjah landmark that used to have a Taza chicken restaurant, it has now been repurposed as a venue for the biennial.

Special excursions have been organised to view the installations by young Argentinian artist Adrián Villar Rojas and Egyptian artist Hassan Khan at the Flying Saucer. Other venues for the Biennial include the SAF Art Spaces, heritage houses, warehouses in Port Khalid, and Kalba Ice Factory. Transport to Kalba Ice Factory will be available every Saturday throughout Sharjah Biennial 12.

What used to be a clutch of old, ruined coral stone buildings behind Souq al Arsah have been repurposed as new multi-functional art spaces since SB11. In development since 2009, the new spaces added approximately 20,000 sq ft of event space, connected by open-air courtyards and rooftop terraces for the Sharjah Art Foundation’s growing programme of activities.

Opening schedule
SB12 Opening Programme will feature a range of events including performances, film screenings and tours.

Among the highlights of the opening schedule are an action entitled ‘XYZ’ by Argentinian artist Eduardo Navarro at Al Hamdan Bin Mousa Square, and ‘Use Like Water’, a performance by acclaimed Indian performance artist Nikhil Chopra at Bait Obaid Al Shamsi, the restored creekside house with access from Corniche Street and Arts Square.

French composer, drummer and electro-acoustic musician Uriel Barthélémi will present a performance entitled ‘Souls’ Landscapes: Violence, Magical Superstructures & Invisible Guardians’ at Mirage City Cinema, SAF Art Spaces.

Congolese dancer Papy Ebotani’s performance ‘Fanfare Funérailles (Funeral Brass)’ will take place from Arts Square to Calligraphy Square, while his dancer, choreographer and fellow practitioner Faustin Linyekula’s performance ‘Le Cargo’ will be on at the Sharjah Institute for Theatrical Arts.

Additional unscheduled events will take place throughout the opening programme and the biennial.

Film screenings
SB12 film programme screenings and education programme activities will take place every Saturday from March 7.

Among the first screenings of the biennial is In the Absence of the Objects Seen, a screening event by Brooklyn-based Palestinian multimedia artist Ayreen Anastas and New York-based Iranian Rene Gabri at Bait Obaid Al Shamsi.

Closing the official opening schedule of the biennial on Saturday, March 7 will be the first screening of the SB12 film programme, which will then take place every Saturday at Mirage City Cinema, SAF Art Spaces.

During the first three days of the biennial’s run, a variety of artists will engage in time-based commissions, among them Maxim Gvinjia, the former foreign minister of Abkhazia, who will be holding office hours as a consul at a fake embassy.

March Meeting

This year, March Meeting 2015 (MM2015) takes place from May 11 to 16. It is part of an extended conversation that began last year with March Meeting 2014: Come Together.

For this edition, SB12 curator Eungie Joo has invited Kristine Khouri, Rasha Salti, Eric Baudelaire, Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri to conceptualise different sections of MM2015 as integral parts of their contributions to SB12, which will include panel discussions, keynote addresses, talks and screenings.

On May 11, Khouri and Salti will organise three sessions, including a presentation on their ongoing research on the International Art Exhibition for Palestine, which took place in Beirut in 1978 and included some 194 works by 197 international artists from 29 countries. The idea was to establish a museum of international modern and contemporary art in solidarity with Palestine, in exile, until it’s liberation. The presentation takes in interviews with artists, filmmakers and journalists associated with this project, as well as a keynote address by the scholar W.J.T. Mitchell.

Eric Baudelaire’s Sharjah Sessions are part of his contribution to SB12, including The Secession Sessions, which considers the question of statehood through the prism of the state of Abkhazia, which seceded from Georgia, in the Caucasus, during a civil war in 1992–93 and isn’t recognised by many countries. In addition to the ‘Anembassy of Abkhazia’, staffed by Maxim Gvinjia, former minister of foreign affairs, and daily screenings of Baudelaire’s feature length film, Letters to Max, this discursive programme includes sessions with artists and scholars and will take place from May 12-13.
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