x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The Silk Road to globalisation will be focus of Sharjah Biennial curator

A leading figure on the Tokyo arts scene, Yuko Hasegawa, discusses her vision for the 2013 event.

Visitors pour into the 2011 biennial. Sharjah's cultural showpiece has established itself as one of the leading exhibitions of contemporary art in the Middle East. Jaime Puebla / The National
Visitors pour into the 2011 biennial. Sharjah's cultural showpiece has established itself as one of the leading exhibitions of contemporary art in the Middle East. Jaime Puebla / The National

Yuko Hasegawa, the chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, has been chosen to curate 2013's Sharjah Biennial 11.

Announcing the appointment on Thursday, Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, the president and acting director of the Sharjah Art Foundation, said: "Hasegawa's proposal for the 2013 Biennial reflects the long tradition of Sharjah as a place where the gathering of diverse communities encourages an exchange of ideas and knowledge."

Together with Sheikha Hoor, the curator will select the artists who make it into the exhibition, which is due to open in March 2013, as well as producing a coherent conceptual direction for the show.

Hasegawa has worked on art biennials in, among other places, Brazil and Turkey, and said in a telephone interview from Tokyo: "Both countries have long histories, and in that way are civilisations similar to Japan. Sharjah, however, may be young but it has the moving culture of the Bedouin. That creates a shifting, non-concrete culture and is interesting because it means a very rich cultural memory."

The Sharjah Biennial has established itself as one of the leading exhibitions of contemporary art in the region. Every two years, an assembly of works by Middle Eastern and international artists gather in the Heart of Sharjah heritage district in the centre of the city.

The event is entirely non-profit, and features a vast collection of artworks specially commissioned by the Sharjah Art Foundation. Hasegawa said that pushing for production of these works in the UAE was especially important to her.

"I want to transport the eye and the hand of artists to Sharjah, and not just their work," she said. "I think this will create a greater dialogue between the artists and the country itself."

Observers will be watching closely to see how the 2013 event fares, following the dismissal of Jack Persekian as director this year over the content of an exhibit in the 2011 event.

Hasegawa said her approach would be an exploration of the Silk Road as a historical precedent for today's globalised, cross-cultural interaction. Between the eighth and 14th centuries, the routes that connected the bazaars of the Middle East with those of east Asia had been very important in the distribution and intermingling of tastes, aesthetics and ideas and had provided one of the main channels for the eastern spread of Islam.

"Today there is globalism, but in a business sense, and that means the passage of very superficial information," said Hasegawa. "Previously this process was about enriching culture as well as trade and I think that's a really important element to explore in this biennial. It's what I refer to as 're-Orientation'."

Discussion of the Silk Road and its symbolism in the historical connections between Arab and eastern Asian cultures has become something of a hot topic in the region's art centres of late. This month, an exhibition of work by the Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, opened to explored precisely this relationship - even including an installation of two spice-laden boats crossing paths on journeys east and west. As economic giants like China and India emerge amid increasing globalisation, discussion of such time-honoured but often-overlooked cross-regional relationships are becoming pertinent.

Introducing this concept into Sharjah Biennial, then, has an interesting relevance, and Hasegawa said bringing eastern Asia's contemporary artistic talent to the UAE was something she would pursue, with a slant towards animation, architecture and design.

Last time, the event featured three curators, who envisaged the structure of the biennial as like that of a film. But Hasegawa said she was not daunted by the prospect of being sole curator. "I'm kind of the conductor of an orchestra, but I want to make connections with everybody working on this - artists, writers, designers. A biennial is about the creative process and finding such a synergy is very important to me."

For more information, visit www.sharjahart.org

clord@thenational.ae