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Culture in-stalled

On a quiet Saturday afternoon, it is easy to get lost in the maze-like, stark-white corridors of Sharjah’s heritage and art sites.

by Dhanusha Gokulan

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Published: Sun 31 Mar 2013, 9:46 AM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 4:50 AM

And unlike other art spaces across the country, this one will have you using more than two of your five senses in order to really appreciate the art installations at the eleventh edition of the Sharjah Biennial.

The unique installations on display at the recently opened Al Mureijah heritage site is witness to the fact that art is not only to be seen or heard, but to be felt: “The only other time I attempted to curate something similar was at the 7th Istanbul Biennial in 2001. But in the case of Sharjah, I drew a lot of inspiration from my observation and research on the Islamic corridor and the cultural sensation and sensitivity of the people living here,” said curator of the exhibition, Yuko Hasegawa in an interview with Khaleej Times.

A unique installation by Francis Alys.Hasegawa is the chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, and a seasoned director, curator, and advisor for biennials the world over.

The theme for this 11th edition, ‘Re:emerge — Towards a New Cultural Cartography’, reconsiders the relationship between the Arab World, Asia, the Far East, through North Africa and Latin America. Like contemporary art itself, the installations at the Sharjah Biennial-11 is on the move. While you move from one alleyway to the next searching for the source of the sound of Sufi qawali singers, Dictums 10:120 — the live installation of 32 performers, microphones, and sound systems by Egyptian artist Wael Shawky — you are thrown into Shiro Takatani’s composition, which is a fog sculpture in a courtyard, that invites bright sunlight to mingle in a mystical cloud-like space.

Spread across four strategically placed locations, the Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF) is home to several contemporary installations; Calligraphy square; Bank Street; and Arts area (Al Shuweiheen) and Hasegawa’s curator skills do not disappoint. Despite the maze-like geographical structure, the art spaces have been laid out tastefully. It features over 100 artists from over 40 countries and Hasegawa has worked blood, sweat and tears to make it the success it is: “I got the invitation to curate the Biennial in December 2011, so I have been working on this project for about a year and two months.”

The Biennial, open till May 13, has taken up residence at the newly inaugurated SAF Art Spaces led by SAF President Shaikha Hoor Al Qasimi. The opening day (March 13) saw the coming together of art professionals, practitioners and enthusiasts based both in the UAE and abroad.

Shaikha Hoor Al Qasimi spoke about the meaning of the Biennial for Sharjah and the UAE: “Through this gathering of academics, artists, architects and art professionals, we aim to foster connections that may develop into new partnerships and initiatives. Moreover, parallel to facilitating encounters between the local and international, the above reflections are points of departure for exploring and revaluating cultural and artistic practices, and instigating dialogue with and within the community, a guiding premise to the existing mission and direction of the Sharjah Art Foundation.”

Speaking about the strong East meets West theme, Hasegawa said that she was merely drawing from the spirit of the city: “When we are talking about cultural cartography, it has nothing to do with the political borders. Political borders and cultural borders are two very different things,” she said.

Works, like artist Francis Alys’, ‘Don’t cross the bridge before you get to the river’, is an example best suited to understand the premise of the Biennial.

“Most of the ideas came from my observation and research about the people living here, their sensation and sensitivity and the way they acknowledge art. The people of Sharjah have amazing audio senses. They are very appreciative of music. This led to many of the mixed media installations, which involved the depiction of both sounds and sights, to be greatly appreciated. I tried to apply the same context in Sharjah as well. Here, everything is sort of fused together,” said Hasegawa.

Since art from several parts of the world clashes together at the biennial, Hasegawa said that it is not just about visualising art; it’s about feeling the art on display.

Dhanusha Gokulan
Dhanusha Gokulan

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