Sharjah Biennial chief sacked over one work

Jack Persekian, the former director of the Sharjah Biennial, said he was dismissed following criticism of one exhibit at the art fair.

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SHARJAH // Jack Persekian revealed last night that his shock sacking as director of the Sharjah Biennial followed criticism of one exhibit at the giant art fair.

His dismissal was announced yesterday afternoon by the official news agency WAM, which said the move had been made on the orders of Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed, the Ruler of Sharjah.

Mr Persekian, speaking from his home city of Jerusalem, said he learned of his dismissal in a phone call at noon from a colleague at the Sharjah Art Foundation, which runs the Biennial.

"It was very, very abrupt," he said. "It completely knocked me over. It was the result of people objecting to the content of one artwork.

"It was foolish of me, I had not looked at it carefully because I couldn't, there were so many works and so many things to produce - films and books and publications and videos, a million things I didn't go through. I'm not in the habit of checking everything, and people just didn't like what they saw in that work and took it out on me personally."

He declined to reveal which work had caused the row, saying only that it has now been removed from the show.

He did say his sacking was not connected to a recent dispute with the Iranian-American filmmaker Caveh Zahedi, whose work was removed on the eve of the Biennial's opening because of legal concerns.

"With the Zahedi film, because I was tipped on its content I could intervene and stop it," he said. "But with the other work I didn't read all the fine print in it and some of the content I missed was objectionable.

"Everybody in the office is shocked, and you can imagine how shocked I am.

"The Biennial was my life, the Biennial and the work in Sharjah was basically most of what I did and most of what I happened to live for."

Mr Persekian's involvement dates back to the 2005 event, which he curated.

The foundation declined to comment.

The 10th Biennial - the Arab world's largest art fair - continues until May 16.