Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Sharjah Biennale 8:

STILL LIFE:Art, Ecology and the Politics of Change
An appropriate and timely issue in a world in which our environment- physical, political and social – is in crisis. It is all the more pertinent in the United Arab Emirates where mindblogging changes are being made to the natural landscape at a frenetic pace. In spite of its title, the curators of the biennale Jack Persekian (artistic director), Mohammed Kazeem, Eva Scharrer and Jonathan Watkins (co-curators) are keen to point out that this is not a ‘green’ biennale nor an attempt to proffer solutions or even make big claims. It is another platform to participate in a pressing global debate through the medium of art.

Touhami Ennadre Anawana Haloba
Still Life consists of over 80 artists from around the world with at least a third from the Middle East. Funds do not seem to be too much of a problem as almost 50% of the work exhibited were newly commissioned for the event. Africa is adequately represented with about 9 artists but as a group the resulting work was a bit disappointing. A mixture of the expected by El Anatsui, Touhami Ennadre and Anawana Haloba, the not so great experimental performative works by Bright Eke and Amal Kenawy, the bland public installation by Susan Hefuna, the utterly confusing presentation and installation by Khaled Hafez and the slick by Zineb Sedira and Mounir Fatmi to downright boring edutainment by Lara Baladi.

Bright Eke Mounir Fatmi
Some of the more provocative works that really engaged with the issues and ideas of the biennale included those of American artist of Iraqi Jewish origin Michael Rakowitz who had two works ‘Invisible enemy should not exist’ an intricate narrative about the looting of cultural patrimony at the National Museum of Bagdad. His second the work ‘The history of dates’ simply and profoundly engaged with the of art, ecology and politics of change. It traces the history of dates from Ancient times to Modern times and focuses on the way in which dates form an intricate part of Iraqi and Middle Eastern life and culture. A central position which is second only to water.

In modern times its cultivation in Iraqi has gone from 30million trees to 3million due to the effects of politics and trade (ban on Iraqi products) of war and of destruction of the fabric of society. A powerful metaphor for the contemporary Iraqi. Rakowitz won the grand biennale prize for his works and deservedly so.

Michael Rakowitz

Another very interesting, challenging project was by the Finnish artist Tea Makipaa. Her performative work involved not travelling to the biennale by airplane. She travelled from Helsinki to Sharjah by road and sea and is still on her back to Finland by road and sea. You can follow the experience of this performative/experiental work on a blog which has fascinating insight into the experience. www.10commandments.de Afgan artist Lida Abdul presented video and photography work that explore change in a post-conflict nation and the transformation that result in society and in the landscape.
Lida Abdul

The Sharjah Biennale is an important cultural event for a region that lacks a substantial local art scene and what does exist is fairly conservative. The participation of the UAE artists was not remarkable but it does provide the opportunity for young and even older artists to experiment, make new work and gain valuable experience on an international platform. Bringing international artists and art professionals is contributing to the development of cultural infrastructure to the country and the region not to talk of the economic of tourism. It is definitely a region worth visiting not only for the biennale but also for the interesting almost hyper-real developments taking place.

Suchan Kinoshita Gerda Steiner & Jörg Lenzlinger

Cornelia Parker Marya Kazoun
Ends on the 4th of June 2007. Still time to catch that plane!!!


Blogger aposteriori said...

hi bisi!

this is wonderful work you are doing reporting on african artists participation in shows and events in and out the continent. keep up the good work! much needed!

9 May 2007 at 18:47  
Blogger Barbara said...

I'm really interested to hear reasons for your criticism of the African artists participating...

25 May 2007 at 22:19  
Blogger Barbara said...

... It's hard to tell from the photos of course but 'The History of Dates' looks like a rather poor school science project... no striking visual components?

25 May 2007 at 22:32  
Blogger Bisi said...

There were few surprises with Anatsui, Ennadre and Haloba, 3 artists whose work I appreciate enormously. While it is undisputed that Anatsui is one of the most important contemporary artists from Africa, as I visit more international exhibitions in which he participates – Dak’art, Africa Remix, October Gallery and now Sharjah come to mind, I think his cloth works are overshadowing the diversity of his practice. I believe that the imposing and equally beautiful work such as his dustbins installations made of discarded printer’s plate of obituary posters and advertisements would have worked extremely well here. Ennadre’s photographs were from 1992/1993 by far the oldest work in the exhibition. Considering Sharjah had a commissioning budget that would make most biennales green and cringe with envy I felt it would have an opportunity to do something new. Haloba’s installation is a continuation of her exploration with salt as metaphor as seen in the video piece, Lamentations.

Eke and El Kenawy are emerging artists who are getting great opportunities to develop and experiment at this early stage of their careers. This has resulted in strong engaging works but sometimes it doesn’t and that is a natural consequence of anybody’s development. A performance piece by Eke in front of a large, international crowd was a wonderful learning experience which I am sure he will build on. His residencies in the US and the other in Colombia will afford him the time for in-depth research and experimentation which is difficult to come by in Nsukka I am convinced his next works will be substantial. El Kenawy presentation, a drawing animation which referenced William Kentridge’s style was interesting and showed promise but it is also a new medium she is exploring as an extension of her well received photographic and video work. Fatmi and Sedira were well presented, perfectly executed but less engaging than previous works with which I am familiar.

The biggest problem with Hafez was not the work but the awkward presentation. It was installed as if it were 3 different solo exhibitions in one. The juxtapositions were incongruous. In one – not so big- space he had the still photos from a video work with the sculptural objects from the video making one installation and then on just one wall within the same space there was one large painting from his superhero series (seen at Dak’art). It seems they were trying to make some contextual correlation – justice and fairness – but unfortunately the space was too small to accommodate the stylistic incongruence. The 3rd was a video in a separate facing enclosure. It shows how the installation and presentation is an important part of reception and meaning.

27 May 2007 at 14:48  

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