Sharjah Biennale 8:
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.
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.
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