Islamic Arts Festival comes to Sharjah, the Middle East’s ‘funkiest art scene’

Sharjah’s Islamic Arts Festival reinforces the emirate’s position as one of the Middle East’s most vibrant art spots.

Sharjah’s yearly Islamic Arts Festival, now in its 16th edition, reinforces the emirate’s status of Middle Eastern cultural centre. Elected UNESCO’s Islamic Cultural Capital of the Arab World 2014, Sharjah has become the liveliest and, according the The Art Newspaper, the ‘funkiest’ centre for contemporary art in the region.

The Sharjah Heritage Area. Image courtesy Sharjah Art Foundation.

The Sharjah Heritage Area. Image courtesy Sharjah Art Foundation.

The 16th Islamic Arts Festival opened in Sharjah on 6 January 2014 and will run for a month. The event presents 46 exhibitions in various locations, showcasing over 700 works by more than 250 international artists, including young Emirati painters.

The organisers, the Department of Culture and Information of the Government of Sharjah, said the festival and the artworks reflect global contemporary art trends and modern visual art movements.

The event also includes first-time exhibitions of emerging artists who have gone beyond classical trends in Islamic arts. The festival is held in the city of Sharjah and in the East and Central Regions, across various venues that hold exhibitions, workshops, concerts and seminars.

Arts Area of the Sharjah Art Museum, Sharjah, UAE. Photo by Plamen Galabov. Image from sharjahart.org.

Arts Area of the Sharjah Art Museum, Sharjah, UAE. Photo by Plamen Galabov. Image from sharjahart.org.

An exhibition at the Sharjah Art Museum showcases works by invited artists from Argentina, Azerbaijan, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Germany, Iraq, Egypt and Turkey.

Islamic heritage made contemporary art

Other exhibitions include “Turkish Variations”, displaying a variety of classical calligraphic artworks, as well as a range of prayer beads made in different kinds of stones and shapes, and a range of ebru artworks that are highly related to Islamic heritage.

Artists from Uzbekistan are exhibiting handicrafts decorated with calligraphy and Islamic ornaments. The event also includes an exhibition by the Union of Arab Photographers, titled “Islam between the East and the West”.

The Emirates Fine Arts Society will hold a competition for the best work of Islamic art presented in the context of the festival.

Reflecting on Islamic civilisation

In addition to the exhibitions, the festival also holds a programme of 86 workshops introducing different art styles and trends, 13 video presentations, four art training courses, 58 field visits and a religious singing concert.

About thirty seminars and lectures on Islamic art are held during the entire period of the festival. A group of leading academics from different Arab countries will take part in a seminar titled “Reflections of Islamic Arts” at the Sharjah Museum for Islamic Civilisation. The seminar explores the history of the spread of Islam across regions and its different art practices ranging from calligraphy to architecture and even literature and manuscripts.

Sharjah Heritage Area. Image courtesy Sharjah Art Foundation.

Sharjah Heritage Area. Image courtesy Sharjah Art Foundation.

Sharjah – Islamic Cultural Capital

UNESCO has nominated Sharjah the Islamic Cultural Capital of the Arab World 2014, the first and only time, as The National mentions, that a UAE city has been bestowed the title. Under the guidance of His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the UAE Supreme Council and a noted historian and author, the emirate won the title in recognition of its remarkable contributions in preserving, promoting and disseminating culture at both a local and an international level.

For the celebrations, the Sharjah government intends to finish its Dh273 million development of Al Majaz Island by March 2014. The area has been under construction since December 2013 in the Khalid Lagoon in the heart of Sharjah.

Part of the plan is the construction of a Dh120 million amphitheatre on Al Majaz Island, designed to host international culture and art events and incorporating conference rooms, galleries, shops, restaurants and green areas.

Blessings Upon The Land of My Love, 2011, installation view, Sharjah Biennial 10. Photo by Alfredo Rubio. Image courtesy Corvi Mora, London.

Blessings Upon The Land of My Love, 2011, installation view, Sharjah Biennial 10. Photo by Alfredo Rubio. Image courtesy Corvi Mora, London.

The ‘funkiest art scene’

Sharjah is only the third largest emirate, after the capital Abu Dhabi, home to branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim, and the business centre Dubai, home to renowned Art Dubai fair.

Nevertheless, Sharjah has established “one of the liveliest contemporary art scenes in the region”, as mentioned by CNN in May 2013. The emirate’s government funds much of its cultural infrastructure and activities.

Sharjah is home to more than twenty museums and holds its much celebrated Sharjah Biennale which, with the establishment of the Sharjah Art Foundation in 2009, has developed into the most important contemporary art biennale in the region. In a recent article on The Art Newspaper, Anna Somers Cocks called Sharjah “the funkiest art scene in the Middle East by far.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related topics: Arab art and artists, promoting art, art festivals, events in the UAE, event alerts

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