Everything Flows
13th Sharjah Biennial

Exchange and collaboration are at the center of the Sharjah Biennial, one of the most important cultural events in the Arab world. The current, now 13th edition is directed by Christine Tohmé. The Lebanese curator invited 73 artists to her principal exhibition. Among them are many artists from the Deutsche Bank Collection, including Kader Attia, Sarnath Banerjee, Nikhil Chopra, Inci Eviner, Maha Maamoun, and Raqs Media Collective. Sharjah has long showcased both art and culture. It is home to 30 museums alone, more than in all of the other United Emirates put together.

Tamawuj is the title Tohmé chose for the Biennial. The Arab word denotes the rise and fall of sea waves, as well as flowing, changing forms. Thus, for example, the Istanbul-based artist Inci Eviner continually rejects fixed role models and dissolves identities. This is apparent in her video Runaway Girls (2015), which deals with young runaway women. But the declared feminist did not shoot a social reportage. Instead, Eviner has her performers, whose faces are hidden behind paper masks covered with drawings, dance or fight with one another in a vacant factory hall. The gender of the actors can never be clearly discerned, however.

Basim Magdy also shuns all clarity. No Shooting Stars, the new film by Deutsche Bank’s “Artist of the Year” 2016, is perfectly in line with Tohmé’s Biennial title. It is a visual poem about the sea, waterways, and coasts. The overlapping images, whose colors Magdy manipulated using chemical substances, have hypnotic power. In addition, a narrator can be heard, but we never really find out who is speaking—sometimes it seems as though it is the ocean itself. Magdy’s film is also being shown in his exhibition at Arnolfini in Bristol. Yto Barrada, another “Artist of the Year,” is also represented in Sharjah. She is showing her most recent sculptures, which are based on “assemblages” by plumbers from her home city Tangier. The men transformed discarded pipes, water faucets, and fittings into fantastic objects with which they advertise their services on the city’s squares. Here Barrada blurs the boundaries between art and handicrafts.

Alongisde Tamawuj, Tohmé brings four other terms into play: earth, water, crops, and the culinary. In the 133 works on exhibit, these themes are addressed time and time again. Tonico Lemos Auad planted a garden with medicinal plants. Uriel Orlow’s video The Crown Against Mafavuke (2016) relates how two views of medicine collide in court in South Africa in 1940: traditional herbal healing and Western, science-based medicine. In their performance, the London artist duo Cooking Sections focuses on climate change and serves a dinner with ingredients from plants that need just a little water to survive and therefore grow in arid regions. 

Tohmé also brings the conventional Biennial format into flow. Her project encompasses much more than just the exhibition in Sharjah. For the opening, she organized a lively program consisting of discussions, films, and performances in which Raqs Media Collective and Maha Maamoun, to whom an entire floor of the Deutsche Bank Towers is devoted, took part. The Biennale began back in October 2016 with the SB13 School, a yearlong educational program, and an online platform. Through off-site projects in Dakar, Istanbul, Ramallah, and Beirut it is linked with all kinds of local scenes. The aim is to strengthen ties between artists, curators, and researchers in the region, thus promoting a flow of knowledge and experiences.

Sharjah Biennial 13
Until June 12, 2017