The 2017 Sharjah Biennial Prize went to four artists, each with a diverse creative practice that challenges the status quo.
Hailing from Africa, Europe and the Middle East, the winners explore the ever-changing reality of contemporary life.
On 10 March the Sharjah Art Foundation announced the 2017 Sharjah Biennial Prize recipients, including İnci Eviner, Uriel Orlow, Dineo Seshee Bopape and Walid Siti. The late artist Ali Jabri was awarded an honourary mention.
The prize was established in 1993 and is awarded to artists with artworks exhibited in the biennial. The jury this year consisted of Adriano Pedrosa, Artistic Director of Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand in Brazil, N’Goné Fall, independent curator and cofounder of GawLab Collective Dakar and Dr Youssef Aidabi, Advisor at the Dr. Sultan Al Qasimi Centre for Gulf Studies.
The Sharjah Biennial 13 in the United Arab Emirates is a year-long programme with the overall theme of Tamawuj, an Arabic noun meaning rising and falling in waves. The flowing and undulating implied in the theme reflect the porous nature of the biennial and its collaborations within Sharjah and the project localities. Curator Christine Tohme invited artists to respond to the four keywords water, crops, earth and culinary.
This year’s edition consists of five parts from October 2016 to October 2017, with the main exhibition programme taking place in Sharjah from 10 March to 12 June and the second in Beirut in October 2017.
Swiss artist Uriel Orlow creates multimedia installations that challenge readings of history. Using video, photography, drawing and sound, he talks back to history, creating alternative narratives that could otherwise be ignored or hidden. Orlow often takes locations and events as a starting point, before conducting archival research and creating visuals and sound. A theme in his work is the interplay between history and memory, and how people can try to forget events even as their impact haunts the present.
In describing his process Orlow explains his approach to using historical images:
For a long time I avoided using archival images in my work – I was more interested in thinking about the past from the perspective of the present, of what’s still here, which is usually the place where something happened. I call this spatial history as opposed to temporal history…At the same time it was about more than sharing the pictorial information, the access to the past the images might contain.
Dineo Seshee Bopape
South African artist Dineo Seshee Bopape is a multimedia artist who uses experimental video montages, sound, found objects, photographs and sculptural installations in her work. She explores the relationship between the natural and the artificial, questioning fixed meanings.
In an interview with ARTnews about her work, Bopape explained the relationship between the body and experience:
I became completely fascinated about how the body carries with it memories that manifest into forms and things on and in the body. I was fascinated with both a personal narrative as well as the sociopolitical and historical baggage, but those became too heavy to carry, so they became ghosts of sorts.
In the work for the biennial, Bopape explores the link between the physical and the spiritual in +/- 1791 (monument to the Haitian revolution 1791) (2017). The piece examines how freedoms of the land and the spirit are inextricably linked.
Iraq-Kurdish artist Walid Siti investigates themes of memory and loss amidst an ever-changing reality. Siti left Iraq after graduating from the Institute of Fine arts in Baghdad in 1976. He studied art education in Ljubljana, Slovenia and in 1984 sought political asylum in the United Kingdom, where he still lives and works. It is these experiences of exile and continual change that are present in his work. Drawing from collective memory, cultural identity and personal experience Siti takes inspiration from his land of birth, which although distant, retains a strong emotional connection.
Siti’s installations, structures and paintings consider these concepts of nation, heritage and forced migration. Mountains, pyramids and ladders all play an important part in his visual language. As Siti describes in his artist statement, these structures represent the shift from the familiar to the unknowable future, they become “a visual metaphor for dislocation and disorientation”. Through his visual metaphors, Siti studies the impact of shifting power structures and rapid development.
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