From Istanbul to Sharjah and back again

The cities’ artistic ties are on display at the 13th Sharjah Biennial

By Emma Harper | April 4, 2017


Istanbul is making quite the splash at the 13th Sharjah Biennial, which opened on March 10 and will run until June 12.

Out of the four artists awarded the 2017 Sharjah Biennial Prize, two – İnci Eviner and Walid Siti – are represented by Istanbul-based galleries (Galeri Nev Istanbul and Galeri Zilberman, respectively). The other recipients were Uriel Orlow and Dineo Seshee Bopape, with the late Ali Jabri receiving an honourary mention. Organised by Sharjah Art Foundation since 1993, the prize provides the recipients with funding for the creation of a new work.

İnci Eviner’s win is no suprise to anyone who caught her retrospective at Istanbul Modern in 2016 (read our review of the exhibition on the blog). This biennial features two of the artist’s videos: ‘Beuys Underground’ (top image), a new work commissioned by the biennial, and ‘Runaway Girls’ (2015). The former is a captivating example of Eviner’s world-building. In this alternative present, an oppressive and failing government creates fictionalised enemies to cover up its failures, forcing a group of poets and artists to go underground and reimagine concepts such as ‘justice, laughter, cloud, headscarf, family, woman, drum, soldier’. With this piece, Eviner bears witness to the traumas that demand a new kind of listening and witnessing.

Walid Siti’s installations at Sharjah Biennial 13 (‘Phantom Land’ in the foreground and ‘False Flags’ in the background)

Walid Siti, best known for exploring humanity’s relationship to heritage, home, borders, mobility and migration in his work, was commissioned to make two pieces for the biennial. Characterised by the use of netting, absence of colour and tormented shapes, ‘False Flags’ explores the inverse of the conventional flag form, reflecting on our fragile attachment to iconic emblems of identity.

‘Phantom Land’ in detail

‘Phantom Land’ is a ‘primeval formation’, in the words of the artist, made from a mixture of plaster of Paris, grout and acrylic paint. Seismic shifts and disturbances across time and space are rendered in the work’s disorienting formations. The conceptual and material exploration registers the unknown stories of the lost and the missing.

A trip to the UAE may not be on the cards for most. But the biennial, titled Tamawuj, an Arabic word meaning ‘a rising and falling in waves; a flowing, swelling, surging, fluctuation; a wavy undulating appearance outline or form’, is moving beyond national borders. The curator Christine Tohme, the Founding Director of Ashkal Alwan, the Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts, has invited four ‘interlocutors’ to create varied permutations of artistic conversation and production across four other sites: Dakar, Senegal; Ramallah, Palestine; Istanbul, Turkey; and Beirut, Lebanon.

Aslı Niyazioğlu gave a talk titled ‘Gardens, Stories and Pleasures of the Imagination in Early Modern Istanbul’ during the first round of talks and screenings at SALT Galata

The Istanbul programme, led by the curator Zeynep Öz, will revolve around the keyword ‘crops’ (the other three keywords are 'water', 'earth' and 'culinary'). The first round of talks and film screenings were held at SALT Galata between March 23–25. The next round will run from April 5 to 7, again at SALT. Performances are scheduled for the middle of May, location TBA, and the Abud Efendi Mansion in Sultanahmet will host an exhibition from May 13 until June 10. Check the Istanbul off-site project’s Facebook page for detailed updates.

The biennial’s off-site projects place researchers and interlocutors in conversation with one another, and with Sharjah, creating a space for knowledge transmission and information-sharing between artists, curators, editors, researchers and the general public. This fluidity of knowledge irrigates new, enduring terrains of collaboration. What flows from Istanbul to Sharjah ultimately comes back again, channelling the friendships and collaborations that have become so crucial for the survival of many art landscapes, institutions and individuals in the region.

Top image: İnci Eviner, ‘Beuys Underground’, 2017, Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation

Posted in Contemporary Art, Exhibitions, Film, Music and Performing Arts, Talks and Lectures
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