SHARJAH, UAE — The poet Andrew Marvell once wrote an elaborate and lush entreaty to his love interest which began “Had we but world enough and time.” These words occur to me as I think about my experience at the Sharjah Biennial earlier this month. Many biennials are full to bursting with work that is carefully chosen and presented. But this one, in particular, backed by a robust investment by the ruler of this Emirate his Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi via his daughter Hoor Al Qasimi, who is the director and president of the Sharjah Art Foundation, is both well organized and exceedingly well curated.
The Sharjah Biennial devises worlds that are full and rich enough to create confidence in them, enough so I plunge into them with held breath, explore their architectures of meaning and come back to myself gasping. I was certainly given worlds enough — visually seductive, conceptually complex, and emotionally devastating worlds — and though I was there for four days, I didn’t have enough time. There were fictional museums with very real, beautifully rendered objects to be placed in the structure that has yet to be, environments created with bamboo, mud, or wrenched steel, caverns in which light and sound immersed me in narrative, and a sound installation that evoked a story of prisoners enclosed in the dark even I was within that work.
Some absorbing pieces were essentially works of architecture, like Mariana Castillo Deball’s “Hypothesis of a Tree” (2016) an environment created in a gallery in Al Mureijah Square that consists of bamboo struts hung with curtains of Japanese paper imprinted with rubbings of fossil sediments. Walking through that piece was like walking through an ancient, newly discovered forest.
Nida Sinnokrot used electronic technology — projectors, motors, sensors amplifiers and screens — in his work “When Her Eyes Lifted”(1998/1999) to also embed me a space that felt like it was on the edge of civilization and someone was trying to send messages (in warning?) from the past. Shadi Habib Allah took me into a fevered dream with his installation “30KG Shine” which consisted of strange, funereal wooden sculptures that might the posters of an elaborate bed or monument, with twisted brass chandeliers cast onto the floor and illuminating the rooms from that vantage, plus a strange film of workers carving out an underground cemetery in Jerusalem. I never fully understood what was happening in that space, but it rang and echoed in my head. I will provide more highlights in a follow-up post providing a thorough, prosaic overview.
The Sharjah Biennial 13, Tamawuj, unfolds in five parts from October 2016 through October 2017. Featuring over 50 international artists, the biennial encompasses exhibitions and a public programme in two acts in Sharjah and Beirut; a year-long education programme in Sharjah; projects in Dakar, Ramallah, Istanbul, and Beirut; and an online publishing platform.