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Sharjah Biennial 15: Thinking Historically in the Present

February 7–June 11, 2023

Sharjah Art Foundation will bring together approximately 150 artists and collectives for the 15th edition and 30th anniversary of the Sharjah Biennial in February 2023.

Sharjah Biennial 15: Thinking Historically in the Present, conceived by the late Okwui Enwezor and curated by the Foundation’s Director Hoor Al Qasimi, reflects on Enwezor’s visionary work, which transformed contemporary art and influenced the evolution of institutions and biennials around the world, including the Sharjah Biennial.

Al Qasimi interprets and elaborates on Enwezor’s proposal with a presentation of more than 300 artworks—including over 70 new works—critically centering the past within contemporary times. These works, as well as a wide-ranging programme of performance, music and film, activate more than 19 venues in 5 cities and towns across the emirate of Sharjah: Al Dhaid, Hamriyah, Kalba, Khorfakkan and Sharjah. Among the many venues are sites within Sharjah’s historical quarter; buildings recently restored and transformed by the Foundation including The Flying Saucer and Kalba Ice Factory, and structures that were formally a vegetable market, a medical clinic and a kindergarten.

Free and open to the public, Sharjah Biennial 15 runs 7 February through 11 June 2023, with opening week events taking place from 7 to 12 February. 

A daily programme of the opening week activities can be found here.

The modern art exhibition allowed Enwezor to connect with history, politics, and society in our global present. One point of departure for the 15th Sharjah Biennial is Enwezor’s proposal of the “postcolonial constellation” and its pluriverse of important notions. Reimagining the late curator’s concept, Al Qasimi builds on her own long-term experience with the Biennial, as a visitor, artist, curator, and, eventually, director of the Foundation.

The 19 venues dispersed over Sharjah, ranging from heritage buildings and historical sites to late-century modern architecture and contemporary spaces, connect various eras in Sharjah’s history as well as its diverse communities and landscapes. The Biennial proposes a transcultural universe of thought embedded in this local social fabric through more than 300 artworks, involving Sharjah’s own lived past in a nuanced conversation about postcolonial subjectivity, the body as repository of memories, restitution, racialization, transgenerational continuities, and decolonisation. Performances, concerts, workshops, and other public programs rooted in intimate and caring observations of everyday lives and vernacular traditions will activate the venues as well as regional art centers located in each city, forming a capillary reach across the emirate throughout the Biennial’s four-month duration.

Expanding on Enwezor’s initial idea, Al Qasimi has collaborated with artists to create over 70 new works, including many large commissions, that relate to and respond to SB15’s overriding concept of centering the past inside the present, bridging multiple postcolonial histories.

Working Group and Advisory Committee
Thinking Historically in the Present has been realised with the support of the SB15 Working Group, comprised of Tarek Abou El Fetouh (Director of Performance and Senior Curator, Sharjah Art Foundation), Ute Meta Bauer (professor and Founding Director, NTU CCA Singapore), Salah M. Hassan (professor and art historian, Cornell University, and Director of The Africa Institute, Sharjah), Chika Okeke-Agulu (professor and art historian, Princeton University) and Octavio Zaya (independent curator, art writer and Executive Director, Cuban Art Foundation), alongside an Advisory Committee that includes Sir David Adjaye (architect) and Christine Tohmé (Director, Ashkal Alwan, Beirut).

March Meeting 2023: The Postcolonial Constellation: Art, Culture, Politics after 1960
March 9–12, 2023

The Foundation hosts its annual gathering of artists, curators, scholars, and arts practitioners from around the world to discuss critical problems in contemporary art, which coincides with the Biennial. The March Meeting 2023 will revisit the histories of this period while examining concepts such as first nation and indigenous practices, creolization, hybridity, and supranational formations such as the Black Atlantic, diasporas, exile, and statelessness, as well as artistic, ideological, and philosophical perspectives on decolonization.

March Meeting 2023 builds on the two previous March Meetings that served as a prelude to the Biennial and were similarly conceived in relationship to Enwezor’s conception of the “postcolonial constellation”: Unravelling the Present (2021) and The Afterlives of the Postcolonial (2022).