SHARJAH MIDDLE EAST EVENTS POLITICAL ART
In the wake of the political and civil unrest in the West Asian region, with upheavals in Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya as well as the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, a political undercurrent could not help but pervade the 10th Sharjah Biennial in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.
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In an article published on ARTINFO, writer Daniel Kunitz explores the political dimensions of the Sharjah Biennial, an event that came to pass at such a conspicuous time, as protests and other expressions of dissent, collectively referred to as the Arab Spring, are sprouting in several parts of the highly conservative Middle East.
This biennial was the 10th since the event’s first edition in 1993 and featured works by 76 artists in the mediums of film, visual art, music, video art, choreography and publishing. It was curated by Rasha Salti, the creative director of ArteEast New York together with Lebanese artist Haig Aivazian and Suzanne Cotter, a British curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.
While the Sharjah Biennial was busy with its own affairs, earlier the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which the United Arab Emirates is a prominent member, sent troops to Bahrain to help control a rising resurgent protest. This gave the Biennial a new dimension: an oblique political meaning relevant to the current state of its milieu.
That is not to say that timing is the only source of the Biennial’s political significance. Sharjah Art Foundation director Jack Persekian had dedicated the art event to the “spirit of change” that is apparent throughout the region. At the opening, where Sharjah’s emir Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qasimi was present, a group of people passed around papers that bore the names of those who died in Bahrain as a symbolic gesture.
One may think that in conservative Sharjah, regarded as the most traditionally Islamic emirate, freedom of expression would be restrained but, on the contrary, the artists were not given any outright restrictions, escaping, even momentarily, the binds and limitations of tradition and limitations, which helped to facilitate a wider platform for dialogue.
Persekian explains in the Sharjah Biennial catalogue:
Artists come forth with ideas and proposals for projects that lie beyond the conventions of religion or dominant culture. In such cases, the artists’ challenge lies in confronting censorship, which may be imposed on them by the topical or local framework of the Biennial. But this challenge beckons them to create a framework for participation and dialogue that is in accordance with local culture. Dialogue then becomes the point of entry into the work, instead of artists’ imposing their views, habits, conventions, and liberties or restrictions on the Biennial.
Some of the artists who displayed provoking pieces included Imran Qureshi with Blessings Upon the Land of My Life, which is a site-specific installation reminiscent of a blood bath that reveals in the beauty of petals upon closer inspection. Other works included Harun Farocki and Andrei Ujica‘s Videograms of a Revolution, which is an assembled footage of Romanian dictator’s Nicolae Ceausescu’s oust from power in 1989 and Hrair Sarkissian‘s Execution Squares, which is a series of photographs of execution sites across Syria.
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