After being delayed twice owing to the coronavirus pandemic, the event is now scheduled to take place from February 7 to June 11, 2023. Titled Sharjah Biennial 15: Thinking Historically in the Present, the show was conceived by Nigerian curator, art critic and writer Okwui Enwezor, who died in 2019, and SAF director and biennial curator Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi.
The Biennial will take place across 16 venues in Sharjah, including a vegetable market, power station and a former nursery. As a way of marking the platform’s 30th anniversary, 30 major commissions will be featured by artists including John Akomfrah, Kader Attia, Destiny Deacon, Bouchra Khalili, Doris Salcedo, Yinka Shonibare, Hajra Waheed and Carrie Mae Weems.
"Owkui saw Sharjah Biennial’s 30-year anniversary as an opportunity to reflect on the role that biennials serve in the ecosystem of contemporary art, particularly the Sharjah Biennial itself and the broader Foundation that grew from it,” Al Qasimi said.
“With gratitude to Okwui and the ambitious intellectual project he conceived, we are organising a Biennial that builds on and honours his vision to probe the past, present and future role that biennials and institutions, including the Sharjah Biennial and the Foundation, can serve. We look forward to welcoming local audiences and visitors from around the world to reflect on the themes the Biennial explores and the wide-ranging perspectives of the participating artists.”
As another integral part of Enwezor’s plans, the 2021 and 2022 March Meeting events served as a collective prelude to the coming Sharjah Biennial 15.
The foundation’s annual convening of artists, curators and arts practitioners to explore critical issues in contemporary art, the 2021 meeting, held under the theme Unraveling the Present, examined the 30-year history of the Sharjah Biennial and the future of the biennial model.
March Meeting 2022: The Afterlives of the Postcolonial examined the legacies of colonialism and the contemporary impacts of related issues on cultural, aesthetic and artistic practices around the world. March Meeting 2023 will continue the exploration of the Sharjah Biennial 15 themes while the exhibition is on view.
Enwezor had started formulating his vision for the biennial around 2018, when he left the Haus der Kunst museum in Munich. The intention of SB15 was to rethink the biennial model and reflect on SAF's own history and evolution as the institution that has been running the exhibition for years.
"These commissioned artists build on Enwezor's vision that transformed how we understand and engage with contemporary art and its institutions. Although he worked with many of these artists, I felt it was important to include other voices that bring his proposal into our immediate present and leverage the critical role that he believed the Sharjah Biennial could play in this endeavour," Al Qasimi said.
Though the first Sharjah Biennial took place in 1993, it was in 2003, when Al Qasimi took over as curator and artistic director, that the programming expanded to look at more contemporary and international artists. After the establishment of SAF in 2009, the foundation made the biennial one of its core initiatives.
To realise next year's event, Al Qasimi is also collaborating with a group of curators and art historians labelled the SB15 Working Group, which include curators Tarek Abou El Fetouh, who had previously worked on Abu Dhabi Art’s performance programme, and Octavio Zaya, as well as academics Salah M Hassan, Ute Meta Bauer, Chika Okeke-Agulu.
They are also working with members of the advisory committee, which includes architect David Adjaye, as well as Christine Tohme, director of Beirut's Ashkal Alwan, The Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts.