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Suzanne Cotter and Rasha Salti, the new curators for the Sharjah Biennial, talk at the March Meeting.
Suzanne Cotter and Rasha Salti, the new curators for the Sharjah Biennial, talk at the March Meeting.

Art in focus

The announcement of new Biennial curators is the highlight of Sharjah's art industry symposium the March Meeting.

The 10th Sharjah Biennial art festival will be curated by two women for the first time, who plan to use the emirate as a backdrop for an imaginary movie, an audience at the March Meeting has heard. Opening in March 2011, the event will be overseen by the professional writers and curators Suzanne Cotter and Rasha Salti. The two-month festival will be their first collaboration and also the first to be overseen by the newly formed Sharjah Arts Foundation.

After their names were announced at the end of the opening day of the March Meeting, the city's annual art industry symposium, on Saturday, the duo revealed the event's title and concept. Known as Plot for a Biennial, it will be "tailored to the idea of a treatment for a film, replete with a plot and characters". The curators aim to not only present specially commissioned works by international artists, filmmakers and performers but to merge them into a unified, film-like narrative. The event is set to take place in several locations across the city.

"The Biennial will function as a series of intersecting chapters, or reels, to be broken and reconstructed by the individual visitor," they said in a statement that was read out at the symposium. The names of the artists who will be commissioned to create works for the event have not yet been announced. Salti, from Lebanon, told the gathering that the concept emerged while discussing ideas for the festival with her Australian co-curator over the internet.

"There was a moment when we realised that we were talking about the Biennial in the same way that you might draft a treatment for a film." Discussing the daunting task, she added: "We keep telling ourselves that we are in it for the process, not the outcome, but the outcome is important too." As well as fine art, Salti also has a background in curating film festivals, something that is likely to have influenced the Biennial's cinematic concept. A former Turner Prize judge, Cotter has held curator positions at London's Whitechapel and Hayward galleries and was recently appointed by the Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation as the curator of exhibitions for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.

Organisers were keen not to let the Biennial announcement overshadow the rest of the March Meeting, which closed yesterday after three days of presentations, workshops and discussions about the future of art. The highlight of the event's first day was the opening of a retrospective of work by the Palestinian-Kuwaiti photo artist Tarek al Ghoussein, who is based in the UAE. Taking place at the Sharjah Art Museum, the exhibition features more than 60 pieces from between 2001 and 2010 and will run until May.

Although the retrospective draws artwork from several series throughout the artist's career, al Ghoussein's work focuses heavily on the Palestinian cause. Pieces from his 2001 Self-Portrait series deal with the varying international perceptions of the Palestinians, while his alphabetised series increasingly shows man-made obstructions, such as walls and mounds, or landscapes from which people have disappeared.

The retrospective also includes the artist's never-before-seen E Series, which continues his exploration of the relationship between man and landscape. The March Meeting events took place in a number of locations across Sharjah, including the city's Arts Area and the Al Qasba district. Workshops were held in the newly opened branch of The Shelter, in the refurbished Maraya Centre. The event attracted artists, gallerists, curators and writers from all over the world, which was never more apparent than during the keynote speeches. Sunday's top name was the Moroccan writer and critic Abdelfattah Kilito, who delivered a lecture on the complexities of translation. Jack Persekian, the director of the Sharjah Art Foundation, said the subject was chosen to add context to next year's Biennial, which lists translation among its main themes. He was followed yesterday with a lecture by the Nigerian-born writer, poet and art historian Okwui Enwezor.

"The March Meeting helps Sharjah to maintain its connections with art professionals and institutions and helps us to discover ideas and possibilities," said Persekian. "We have had a large number of important international institutions here this year and it also helps us to spread the word about the Biennial. Hopefully it will help the curators to find interesting connections and it has even helped me start to understand their concept."

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