Rayyane Tabet, Basalt Shards (detail) from ‘FRAGMENTS’, 2016–ongoing. 1000 charcoal rubbings on paper.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF) has announced its spring 2021 programme, which sees the return of the foundation’s annual March Meeting (MM), in an expanded in-person and virtual format. MM 2021 will serve as a prelude to Sharjah Biennial 15’s (SB15) Thinking Historically in the Present, opening spring 2022. The spring 2021 programme also features major solo shows, exploring the work of influential artists from the MENASA region, the first Sharjah Art Foundation Collection exhibition to be held in the newly renovated Flying Saucer, and the third international collaboration to present the foundation’s expansive Hassan Sharif retrospective to a global audience.
The foundation’s annual MM (Mar. 12 – 21, 2021), is usually organised as a three-day convening of artists, curators and art practitioners, who meet to explore critical issues in contemporary art. MM’s 2021 edition will take place over ten days and serve as the launch of the 15th edition of SB15.
Titled Unravelling the Present, this MM edition examines the past 30 years of the biennial and brings together former Sharjah Biennial curators, artistic directors and artists as well as art historians and critics, to consider the initiative’s role and impact on the region and the global contemporary art scene. It will examine the art biennial as an important vehicle for engaging with history, politics and society and the ways in which they shape the global present. MM 2021 also explores the evolution of the biennial, focusing on its disruption of traditional modes of curating and displaying art by energising non-institutional spaces, moving to non-geographic models of representation and developing a year-round programme, enabled by the establishment of SAF. MM 2021 is an integral part of SB15. Thinking Historically in the Present, which was laid out by the late Okwui Enwezor (1963–2019), will be organised as a posthumous homage to his transformative contributions to the field. Enwezor was a Nigerian curator, art critic, writer, poet and educator, specialising in art history. He was renowned for his research on modernity and global modernisms, theories of contemporary art and photography, diaspora and migration, decolonisation and postcolonial modernisms, and the history and development of museums, exhibitions and curatorial practice.
His curatorial projects alternated between ambitious international exhibitions and historically driven, encyclopedic museum shows. His major projects include the Venice Biennale (2015), Paris Triennale (2012), Gwangju Biennale (2008), Seville Biennial (2006), documenta 11 (1998–2002) and the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale (1997). He also organised many groundbreaking museum exhibitions. SB15 will serve as a platform for the exploration of his curatorial and intellectual legacy and reflect on the critical work of alternative platforms and artistic experimentation, enabled by the emergence of the contemporary art biennial. It will embrace his insistence on the art exhibition as an important vehicle for engaging with history, politics and society, and the ways in which they shape our global present.
The spring 2021 season also features the exhibitions Rayyane Tabet: Exquisite Corpse (Mar. 12 – Jun. 15, 2021), the first presentation in the region of the sculptor’s ambitious project FRAGMENTS (2016 – ongoing), the artist’s most ambitious project to date. It marks its first in-depth presentation in the region. It expands on his exploration of the improbable history of stone reliefs from the ancient palace of Tell Halaf in northeast Syria in two commissions and Unsettled Objects (Mar. 12 – Jun. 15, 2021), an exhibition composed mostly of newly acquired and rare works from the SAF Collection, that will encourage the viewer to reconsider how the colonial imagination is reconstructed.
Rayyane Tabet: Exquisite Corpse brings together newly commissioned works which draws on personal insight and historical records to stage encounters between audiences and matters of geopolitical consequence. The body of work explores an archaeological excavation led by German diplomat Baron Max von Oppenheim in Tell Halaf, at the turn of the twentieth century. The artist’s great-grandfather, Faek Borkhoche, worked as von Oppenheim’s secretary for six months in 1929, a few years after Western powers had carved up the region. Following this familial connection,Tabet has developed works that engage with family heirlooms and archaeological artefacts through accidents of history — across time, generations and continents. Taken together, the project indicates the wide-ranging fallout of an era that looms large over current discussions of cultural appropriation, museological practice and freedom of movement. Curated by Ryan Inouye, Senior Curator at SAF, Exquisite Corpse conveys the story of the Tell Halaf excavation, while also foregrounding ethical questions.
Unsettled Objects encourages viewers to ask questions and make connections. Where do these objects come from? Are the keepers of these entities entitled to hold them, and if so, under what jurisdiction? Many of the holdings shown as part of Unsettled Objects are by figures whose work has somehow been contested, for example, because of provenance or origin.
Also on view is the work of artists who have held multiple identities or personas as well as that of figures who seek to recast colonial art history by imbuing it with the complex multiplicity of people and cultures that have remained invisible for too long. In addition, the landmark foundation retrospective Hassan Sharif: I Am The Single Work Artist, originally on view in Sharjah (2017–2018) before travelling to KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2020), and Malmö Konsthall, Sweden (2020), will open at the Musée d’art moderne et contemporain de Saint-Étienne Métropole (MAMC+), France, in March 2021.
March Meeting 2021 explores the past 30 years of the Sharjah Biennial as a model for dealing with the disruptive power of artistic monolingualism, as seen in traditional modes of curating.
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It is the first presentation of the Collection to be held in the newly renovated Flying Saucer, one of Sharjah’s architectural landmarks.
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