Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Flanked by the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Desert, Sharjah calls itself the cultural capital of the United Arab Emirates. There are more than forty-five heritage centers, museums, galleries, parks and theaters in this tiny state. The ruling sheikh, a playwrite reigns over a province a little bit bigger than the size of Maui, my home.

I imagine Sharjah patiently strives to be an antidote to Dubai's skyward fantasy in whose shadow it forever lies. Today is Sharjah's moment. Every two years, members of the art world watch the Sharjah Biennial which selects, commissions, and presents artwork for two months in the spring. They are here to observe and most of all, judge. Is it marketable? Is it a coherent artistic conversation between the region and the rest of the world? How does it compare to Art Dubai next door?

Today is the press conference. Jack Persekian, artistic director and Isabel Carlos, curator from Portugal describe the open call for projects, five hundred proposals received.


Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen's "In Shallah" (Denmark)

In the end they selected sixty or so visual art projects, books, plays and performances. Unlike other Biennials, there wasn't a prescribed theme from the outset. The team wanted artists and non-artists alike to create new work from their own well-springs.

They called our collective work "Provisions for the Future." Carlos observed that we were concerned with concepts like immigration, travel, narrative, fiction, memory and history, escape and exile. All of the artists, she explained, wanted to hand the world a gift, a testament, something tactile, a provision for the next generation. < next >