Today in the Gulf News, the wonderful Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, founder of Sharjah’s Barjeel Art Foundation and one of the foremost political commentators of the region – read his Twitter stream here – published an opinion piece on the national museums currently in the works in the Gulf states. As he writes: “In my repeated visits what I find even more interesting about what is shown in these national museums is what isn’t on display.” Among these omissions? Anything to do with ethnic or religious minorities, rival governments, ex-pats, slaves, and women altogether. That so much money ($434 million for the National Museum in Qatar, and no telling how much for the museum in Abu Dhabi) would be spent on preserving such a limited history is very telling of the cultural priorities for the region. (Read the entire piece here.)
Against this backdrop, it is all the more critical that programs like the Sharjah Biennial and the Global Art Forum continue the work they are doing in the area. Last week, the Global Art Forum revealed its 2013 line-up, which will once more split between the Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha (March 17-18) and Art Dubai (March 20-23). Last year’s director Shumon Basar will be returning as the commissioner, whereas the director’s responsibilities have been assumed by ArtAsiaPacific editor H.G. Masters.
The list of over 40 contributors includes many of our personal favorites, like marvelous writers Kaelen Wilson-Goldie and Elif Batuman, artists Hassan Khan, Tarek Atoui, Manal Al Dowayan, and Slavs and Tatars, and curator Bisi Silva, Lara Khaldi and Omar Berrada, as well as a special lecture by Rem Koolhaas. (See the full line-up here. For a taste of last year’s event, check Baibakov Art Projects‘ Kate Sutton’s report here.)
Taking place at almost the same time, the Sharjah Biennial will also open up the region to influences outside the histories condoned by the national museums. While the past edition may have been mired in a censorship scandal (resulting in the truly unfortunate dismissal of the ever-talented Jack Persekian), this year’s edition – the 11th – seems intent on starting a fresh chapter in the biennial’s history (an ambition laid bare in the title: “Re:Emerge : Towards a New Cultural Cartography”.) It will be curated by Yuko Hasegawa, and includes over 100 artists. Among the participants are Baibakov Art Projects alum Saâdane Afif and Latifa Echakhch, as well as Taus Makhacheva (the star of one of our last posts), Francis Alÿs, Pedro Reyes, Jesper Just, Wael Shawky, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Find the full roster here.)
And so, counterintuitive as it may seem, it might be to Sheikha Hoor and Hasegawa’s great credit that they have batted away all of those scandals, dismissing them as overblown and buried in the past, while at the same time, without uttering a word of acknowledgment, pinpointing many of the issues underlying the trouble of the last show. They’ve named the event “Re:Emerge” and built a conceptual framework around the courtyard. They’ve emphasized the volatile chain of relations where art encounters audience in some self-styled version of a commons. “We tend to focus on works that are participatory and engage with public space,” said Sheikha Hoor, as she illustrated a fine lineage of public art projects from previous editions of the biennial, recalling how tentative and delicate works such as Olaf Nicolai’s Ritornello, made of laundry strung between the two buildings of the Sharjah Art Museum, were when they were first installed back in 2005. “Things tend to stay as long as they are relevant,” she added, meaning that the foundation keeps public art on view for as long as people find uses for it.
Read Wilson-Goldie’s entire piece here.