The Sharjah Art Foundation is hosting a one-day symposium dedicated to Hassan Sharif, a pioneering figure within UAE contemporary art, and the subject of their current retrospective, Hassan Sharif: I Am the Single Work Artist on January 31.
Speakers at the Hassan Sharif: Interexchange Symposium will discuss his work as an artist, as well as the larger role he played within UAE art history. As a writer, educator, and organiser, Sharif helped lay the ground for the extraordinary turn of the 1990s and 2000s, when Emirati artists shifted from traditional art forms to more conceptual, internationally-focused idioms.
The artists Mohammed Kazem, Abdullah Al Saadi, and Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim, who were all part of the circle that formed around Sharif in the 1990s, will discuss the impact of his teaching, which often took the forms of impromptu lessons in his studio. The curators Murtaza Vali and Maya Allison, and the younger artist Shaikha Al Mazrou, will also discuss his role in introducing art to the public.
Special attention will be paid to the international exposure that the work of Sharif, who passed away in 2016, has experienced recently, such as his inclusion in Christine Macel's international exhibition of the 2017 Venice Biennale.
Catherine David, the internationally renowned curator best known for her curatorship of the German exhibition Documenta X, in 1997, will also speak about his work. David and Kazem co-curated the first monographic show of Sharif's work, Experiments & Objects 1979—2011 (2011), at the currently closed exhibition space in Qasr Al Hosn, Abu Dhabi.
Hoor Al Qasimi, who curated the Sharjah Art Foundation show with assistance from Noora Al Mualla, will introduce the proceedings. The exhibition, which closes on February 3, contains 400 of Sharif's 3500 works. It connects the dots between his performance work and his Objects series, which he is best known for.
After studying abroad at the Byam Shaw School of Art in the 1980s, Sharif returned to the UAE and helped expose artists here to the new art forms and possibilities he encountered while in London. He laboured tirelessly to introduce these ideas to artists in Sharjah and Dubai, often in the face of staunch opposition by the local arts community — and later, after he had gained international recognition, institutional neglect. All this makes the current amount of Emirati support and academic interest in his work all the more poignant: as the artist Vivek Vilasini, whom Sharif worked with and who is also speaking on Wednesday, recently said, “The country is paying back to a genius.”
Hassan Sharif: Interexchange Symposium is at Sharjah Art Foundation, Wednesday, January 31, from 9.30am to 6.30pm