A look back at Sharjah Biennial 11

This is a long overdue review of Sharjah Biennial 11 that I've been meaning to share with you since the summer of 2013. With Sharjah Biennial 12 just under a month away, starting on 5th March and ending on 5th June 2015, now is a good opportunity to look back and share with you the last edition and get you excited for the next one.

If you're not familiar with Sharjah Biennial, it started in 1993 organised by Sharjah's Department of Culture and Information. It is now organised by the Sharjah Art Foundation which was established in 2009 and headed by Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi. The biennial has grown from a traditional and regionally focused art event to a high profile biennial and the largest art event in the UAE and the Gulf region. 

The 11th edition of the Sharjah Biennial saw the inauguration of the new Sharjah Art Spaces, five new multi-functional art spaces connected by open-air courtyards and roof-top terraces within the Sharjah Heritage Area, including an open air cinema. Beautiful spaces seamlessly blended with the heritage area. 


Sharjah Art Spaces

The opening week of Sharjah Biennial 11 was very busy, but after that, I visited several times between March and May, sometimes alone and sometimes with friends. I experienced the biennial on a bright sunny day, cloudy/rainy afternoon and on quiet nights.

The biennial included more than 100 artists, architects, filmmakers, musicians and performers whose artworks and practices followed the theme of Re:emerge, Towards a New Cultural Cartography, curated by Yuko Hasegawa

In Re:emerge, Towards a New Cultural Cartography, curator Yuko Hasegawa proposes a Biennial that reassess the Westerncentrism of knowledge in modern times and reconsiders the relationship between the Arab world, Asia, the Far East, through North Africa and Latin America.

Hasegawa was inspired by the courtyard in Islamic architecture, in particular the historical courtyards of Sharjah, where elements of both public and private life intertwine, and where the objective political world and the introspective subjective space intersect and cross over.

The biennial was spread across several areas, all walking distance from the Heritage Area and the Sharjah Art Spaces. Each visit to the biennial was a joy, alone or with friends. I found the biennial engaging, thoughtful, refreshing and fun. 


Map of Sharjah Biennial 11

My favourite moments/highlights from Sharjah Biennial 11 (I urge you to click on each link to read more about the work):

  • the Sharjah Art Spaces, now my favourite art space in the UAE

Here’s a video of the photos I took during my visits between March and May. 

Below is a video of photos I took from the alva noto (Carsten Nicolai) and Ryuichi Sakamoto performance during the opening week. They are snaphots from my phone and I've included an extract from Uni c by alva noto to give you a sense of what the performance was like. It was electrifying. Held in an open courtyard in Bait Al Shamsi, it was packed with people of all ages and nationalities, everyone was mesmerised. It was such a great moment and this video doesn't really do the performanc any justice, but I hope you get the idea. 

In his work, alva noto seeks to overcome the separation of art forms and genres to create an integrated artistic approach. His 2011 album univrs addresses the conceptual differentiation of a universal language (“universum/universal” as unity, entirety). The visualisation of univrs (uniscope version) – an expanded screen projection setup – combines a variety of modules on a digital level that demonstrate different methods of audio analysis. The resulting signal processing is shown as a relay structure and is performed in real time. Each module can be zoomed in on, enabling greater visual detail. The work was developed with touchdesigner software in close cooperation with Derivative in Toronto, Canada. 

You can see more of Sharjah Biennial 11 here.  

Look out for a post about Sharjah Biennial 12 which will take place between 5th March and 5th June 2015. If you are living in the UAE or visiting during those dates, make sure you don't miss it.