Focal Point: our top five picks from the Sharjah art book fair

Focal Point kicks off in Sharjah this week selling books, magazines and zines from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia

Shoppers at last year's Focal Point art book fair in Sharjah. Sharjah Art Foundation
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Sharjah Art Foundation's Focal Point opens on Wednesday, December 16, with independent art books and magazines available just in time for holiday shopping (or literary stockpiling). This is the third edition of the popular fair, a place to pick up hard-to-find publications by artists, scholars, and writers from the Global South.

More than 80 artists and publishers have shipped books and magazines to Sharjah, where they will be at stalls organised by the foundation for the four-day event. This year, the fair takes place outside in the large courtyard of Bait Al Shamsi and is slightly scaled back due to safety concerns over the coronavirus, with no publishers present in person and less live programming. In the past, related events have include a lecture-performance with Berlin's Fehras Publishing Practices and a symposium put together with Asia Art Archive.

The focus for this year is on books, magazines and zines from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, with a number of small print-run Arab titles including the magazine Khaleejesque; publications from Sudan's Dabanga Gallery; and the Kayfa Ta book series from Amman and Cairo. Local galleries and institutions are also pitching up, with sellers including the Africa Institute, Art Jameel, the Emirates Fine Arts Society and Warehouse421.

Sharjah Art Foundation is selling some of its recent publications, such as Corniche, a Focal Point project that has grown into an annual anthology of work by UAE comic artists. There is also the catalogue Hassan Sharif: I Am The Single Work Artist, including a new scholarship on the Emirati artist. Contributors to Corniche will be available for book signing at the fair.

A selection of books on sale at Focal Point in Sharjah this week. Courtesy Sharjah Art Foundation

Our top five picks

The indie comic magazine TokTok, which started up again after closing in 2016. The brainchild of five Egyptian artists, the publication takes its inspiration from the toktok, or small street taxi, that winds its way through Cairo, transporting passengers from all different backgrounds.

In the newly released LIFTA: Future Palestine, the Mexico City publisher LIFTA Volumes has put together what it calls a "book of exercises and experiments". Poems, blueprints, stories, essays, conversations, sketches and photographs discuss what it is to be Palestinian today, touching on notions of exile and return, science-fiction, memory, nationhood, and political rhetoric.

Regular publishers at Focal Point, Chimurenga from South Africa and Afterall from London have collaborated on the new book FESTAC '77: The 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture. Part of Afterall's highly regarded Exhibition Histories series, in which the publisher rethinks art history through the prism of exhibitions, the book looks at the 1977 Lagos festival that was the culmination of years of pan-Africanist culture and politics. It also forms part of the co-publisher's Chimurenga Library series.

Afterall, based in London, and South Africa’s Chimurenga have co-published a book exploring Festac ’77, the important Pan-African festival that took place in Lagos in 1977. Afterall

The booth that sells Funambulist, a magazine devoted to anticolonial, antiracist, and feminist struggles, sold out on the first day last year, so get to their section early. The cult magazine comes out in print every two months, with articles looking at the Haitian revolution, performance in North Africa and the genealogy of jerk chicken. The stall will have the latest issue, focused on the pan-African political project, as well as back titles for sale.

Finally, Sharjah Art Foundation's monograph series pays tribute to Palestinian artist Abdul Hay Mosallam Zarara, who died in August, leaving behind a career devoted to Palestinian culture and struggle. Jordanian artist Ala Younis, who worked with him in Amman, has edited the book Abdul Hay Mosallam Zarara, devoted to his life and work; it also includes English translations of his memoirs and press clippings.

Focal Point runs from Wednesday, December 16 to Saturday, December 19, from 4pm to 10pm until Friday, and from 2pm to 10pm on Saturday. Tickets must be booked in advance