Exhibitions - Sharjah Art Foundation - Winter 2016/2017

Sun Lady, circa 1975. Studio Mwahib, El Obeid. © Fouad Hamza Tibin / Elnour

Last week I paid a visit to Sharjah to catch up on a series of exhibitions organised by Sharjah Art Foundation that opened in October/November. It's an impressive season of exhibitions and if you've not been, I urge you to dedicate an afternoon/evening to see some very good, thoughtful and even rare works. 

I recorded an episode for the Tea with Culture podcast where Wael Hattar and I discuss the exhibitions we visited. You can listen to it by pressing play below (you can also download the episode and listen to it later). I've listed the exhibitions we discuss below, including location and dates, and added some additional thoughts for March Projects, Khartoum School and Yayoui Kusama.  

Robert Breer: Time Flies
Venue: Flying Saucer
Date: Until 9th January 2017  

Robert Breer, 1970, Four motorized sculptures, plastic, metal, paint and motors dimensions variable. 

Robert Breer, 1970, Motorised sculptures Resin, wood and motor 183 x180 cm

Best known for his films and experimental animations, Robert Breer began his career as a painter and was one of the early members of the postwar Parisian school of abstraction, using Piet Mondrian’s vision of an ideal pure form of abstract art with strict rules of composition as well as Mondrian’s Neo-Plasticism, an austere and geometric concrete art.

In the early 1950s Breer shifted this interest in geometric abstraction into film and created his first group of films Form Phases (1954-1956), which explore movement, composition and space, almost animating his paintings and creating complex forms. These experimental films used a range of techniques from animating geometric shapes and drawings, to using collage and film clippings.  


This exhibition reveals Breer’s playfulness through a wide range of media, humour also translates into his kinetic sculptures and studies, for example a sketch for a moving conference building or a town where everything moves around you. The various objects move very slowly and subtly so that when you look back nothing is where it started. Using satire and metamechanics as did Jean Tinguley with his Dada kinetic sculptures, Breer created different amusing objects that move around you, like a wall, a 'porcupine' or a 'rug'. 

March Project 2016
Venue: Various SAF spaces
Date: Until 19th January 2017 

Ammar Al Attar - Khorfakan Cinema | © Hind Mezaina


Reem Falaknaz | © Hind Mezaina


Bassem Yousri | © Hind Mezaina

March Project 2016 exhibition features site specific works developed by five artists during this annual education residency programme. The works realised draw upon the history and social fabric of Sharjah, as well as the daily lives of its residents and their relationship to art, institutions, space and architecture. Participants in this programme include Noor AbedAmmar Al AttarVikram DivechaReem Falaknaz and Bassem Yousri who were selected from various countries including Egypt, Palestine and the United Arab Emirates.  

This is the third edition of March Projects and it includes video works, photography, sculpture and installations. The works are exhibited in various spaces, which for me were hard to find as there was no printed guide/map about March Projects when I visited. Eventually I found out the works are spread across SAF Art Spaces, Dar Al Nadwa and Ceramics House in Calligraphy Square, and the Arts Area.

I was only able to see works by Bassem Yousri, Ammar Al Attar and Reem Falaknaz. Both Ammar Al Attar and Reem Falaknaz are artists I've known for a few years and have been following their development for a while. Al Attar's exhibition space included objects he found from the now defunct Khorfakkan Cinema. Unfotunately, it didn't go beyond showcasing what he collected, of which most looked like they were dumped in boxes. I was hoping to see a deeper engagement with what was found, of the cinema space and the community that was engaged with this cinema. I recalled the exhibition Album: Cinematheque Tangier, a project by Yto Barrada at Walker Art Center which I unfortunately never visited, but have read about. An exhibition that also included objects from the cinema, but also addressed social and political elements that impacted the community and city. 

Reem Falaknaz's work, a video installation of interviews with Syrians living in Sharjah who work/run their own businesses, contemplating on being away from Syria and creating a new life in Sharjah. I was curious to know what makes this an art piece versus short documentaries in the artists's mind. Something I hope I get a chance to discuss with Reem soon.

A Retrospective (1965–Present): Brevity is the Soul of Wit
Venue: Bait Al Serkal, Arts Area, Al Shuweiheen  
Until: 12th January 2017  

Amir Nour - Grazing at Shendi, 1969 - Steel (202pieces) 305 x 406 cmAmir Nour - Balance, 2016 - Fibre glass and wood 436 x 244 x 231 cm

This retrospective exhibition, which covers the fifty-year career span of the American-based Sudanese artist Amir Nour, presents drawings, photographs, sculptures and new commissions drawn from images of the domes, arches, calabashes and sand hills of his native Sudan.

Nour’s works combine traditional African imagery with the visual vocabulary and materials of Western minimalism.  

Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq: Women in Crystal Cubes
Venue: Building J, SAF Art Spaces  
Date: Until 12th January 2017  

Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq - Installation view

This solo exhibition presents works by Sudanese artist Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq. Kamala is one of the leading influential artists and pioneering modernist painters in Sudan. Her work challenges the traditional male perspective of art in Sudan, depicting scenes of women’s lives in colours of sun, sand and sky. The exhibition includes variety of paintings including early works and new works commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation.   

The Khartoum School: The Making of the Modern Art Movement in Sudan (1945 – present)
Venue: Building G, H and P, SAF Art Spaces  
Date: Until 12th January 2017 

Coined in the early 1960s, the ‘Khartoum School’ is a much contested term; many founders disavowed it, and others rebelled against it, even though they were stylistically and aesthetically connected with it as a movement. This exhibition uses the all- encompassing term to signify the dynamic, multi-faceted and fluid movement that influenced the development of modernism, not just in Sudan, but also more broadly in Africa and the entire Arab world.

This fascinating exhibition covers an important artist and historical movement in Sudan. Sadly there is no catalogue for this exhibition, but I found the list of artists from the press release (included below) . If you are in the UAE, I strongly suggest you don't miss this. One of the strongest and important exhibitions this year.  The exhibition features works by a long list of artists, includes paintings, drawings, with pottery, ceramics, sculpture, photography, film, video and performances,  plus never-before-shown archival material. It highlights the breadth of modernism in Sudan, the diverse styles, genres, sub-movements and groups. 

It traces the early generation of artists of the modernist movement in Sudan, such as Osman Waqialla, Ibrahim El Salahi, Bastawi Baghdadi, Ahmed Shibrain, Abdelrazig Abdelghaffar,Mohammad Omer Khalil, Taglesir Ahmed, Shaigi Rahim, Siddig El Nigoumi, Magdoub Rabbah, Hussein Shariffe, Ahmed Hamid Al Arabi and Griselda Eltayeb. The works of these pioneers merged Western modernist conventions of form and style with their own visual vocabulary, subject matter and Sudanese aesthetics. Works by relatively younger artists whose careers overlapped with the early pioneers, such as Salih Mashamoun, are also presented. These revolutionaries fashioned an aesthetic and identity that was distinctly ‘Sudanese’, but also transcended its national boundaries to include continental African and Islamic motifs and elements.

This exhibition also presents the work of the Crystalist Group, Madrasat Al Wahid [School of the One] and artist-critics such as Hassan Musa and Abdalla Bola, who have enriched the art scene through their art practice as well as their critical interventions and writings since the early 1970s. These three major artist groups sought to distance themselves from the ideology and visual vocabulary of the earlier generation of the Khartoum School. In highlighting these groups and artists, the exhibition demonstrates that the intellectual and conceptual practices of Sudanese artists are inseparable from global conceptualism as a movement.

The solidification of British colonial rule in Sudan was supported by amateur photographs taken by British soldiers, merchants and travellers as early as 1899. This exhibition demonstrates how film, the press and other mass media have all been crucial to modernity since the advent of British colonial rule and through the postcolonial era. The exhibition highlights the work of two pioneer master-photographers, Rashid Mahdi and Gadalla Gubara, as well as other studio photographers, for example, Abbas Habib Alla, Mohamed Yahya Issa, Fouad Hamza Tibin, Osman Hamid Khalifa, Omar Addow, Richard Lokiden Wani and Joua, in the context of the historical linkages between photography, decolonisation and self-representation.

The exhibition features political cartoons by not only seasoned pioneers such as the late Izz El Din Osman and Hashim Carori but also the work of contemporary cartoonist Khalid Albaih, who has become well known for his biting humour and sharp commentary on issues ranging from human rights to migration and regional conflicts.

The exhibition also includes a selected number of works by individual Sudanese and Sudanese diaspora artists, such as the Sudan Film Factory, Sudanese Film Club and Black and White Group, who are all active in the contemporary art scene locally and internationally. 

Yayoi Kusama: Dot Obsessions
Venue: Building I, SAF Art Spaces  
Date: Until 9th January 2017

Yayoi Kusama Dots Obsession, 2013/2016 Mixed media, dimensions variable

Since the age of ten, Yayoi Kusama obsessively experimented with dots and the repetition of forms—covering photographs and drawings to ‘obliterate’ the image. Referred to as Self-Obliterations, Kusama would continue to develop this body of work that now extends from her early drawings and collages to include performance and film.   

This exhibition includes small and large scale works. There's a selection of works on paper dating from 1950s and collage works from 1970s-80s that I was very drawn to.

Her collages were inspired by her close relationship with the artist Joseph Cornell who gave her a selection of collage materials before his death in 1972. "Cornell’s fascination with birds led to a series of aviary boxes that Kusama later references in her own works. Bird and other creatures are confined here in complexly patterned circles that appear almost like nuclei surrounded by auras and biomorphic fringes."   

There are also 12 paintings from an ongoing series titled My Eternal Soul that combine Kusama's obsessive patterns with bright colours. 

The Dots Obsession, a series of oversized inflatable polka-dotted balls surrounding a domed infinity room which you can walk into. By looking into one of the other oversized balls you are surrounded by an illusion of an infinity like mirror space with endless lines of dots, making you "a participant and ultimately a performer of Kusama's 'Dot Obsession'".