Beirut Caoutchouc, Marwan Rechmaoul, 2004, Engraved Rubber. By Cassandra Flores/The Gazelle
With several major art museums, a maritime museum, a heritage museum and a performing arts center soon to come to Saadiyat Island, it is easy to understand why Abu Dhabi is gaining more and more attention as a hub for the arts. Dubai is perhaps better known as an arts hub currently, as it is home to world-famous artists, galleries and auction houses and already has a reputation as an art powerhouse in the region. Despite these facts, however, it is Sharjah that proves the most artistically inclined of the Emirates.
On a recent class trip, NYU Abu Dhabi students had the opportunity to explore just what earns this Emirate such a title. The trip included a visit to the most notable of the art institutions in Sharjah, one of the most significant in the UAE, the Sharjah Art Foundation
. Established in 2009, the foundation seeks to foster the growth of the arts in the Gulf and carry forward the mission of the Sharjah Biennial, the event for which it is best known. The Biennial brings together artists from the area and all around the globe to share their works and build connections. Since its beginning in 1993, the Biennial has grown in fame and prestige.
The SAF doesn’t sit empty between Biennials. Its new art spaces are located in a cluster of buildings found in the Sharjah Heritage Center, among former traditional Emirati homes that have been preserved and restored. This location provides an interesting surrounding for exploring the art that is exhibited. Currently on display is a selection of works from the SAF collection, including images by NYUAD Professor of Visual Arts Tarek Al-Ghoussein. The show spans several rooms and the pieces range in media from video installations and photography to a large rubber map carved to look like an aerial view of Beirut.
Another exhibition titled “Vantage Point Sharjah” can be viewed in an adjacent building. It is comprised of submissions from Emirates-based amateur photographers tasked with exploring the Sharjah through photography. It shows a broad and inclusive portrayal of life in Sharjah through images that often look anything but amateur. Perhaps the best part of the Foundation, though, is that if you come on the right day, you might be lucky enough to have the place largely to yourself.
The Sharjah Art Foundation is not the only option for finding great art in Sharjah. Visitors can also explore the Maraya Art Center, a space for contemporary visual art. One floor of the center is dedicated to the Barjeel Art Foundation. Mainly sourced from the founder’s private collection, this foundation aims to promote the works of both emerging and recognized Arab artists. Currently on display is a show titled “Re: Orientations,” which explores some of the works created by Arab artists from the 1950s to the 1970s. Another floor of the Maraya Center features several contemporary works in the show “The Beginning of Thinking is Geometric,” which includes elaborately decorated glass panels hanging from the ceiling and a painting/puzzle hybrid, among other pieces. While the latter show has recently closed, “Re: Orientations” is open through November and certainly worth a visit.
Sidana, Basmah Felemban, 2013, Site-specific drawing installations with marker pen on plexiglass. By Cassandra Flores/The Gazelle
For the many students who seem largely unaware of what Sharjah has to offer, sophomores Nino Cricco and Diana Gluck, leaders of 1607, NYUAD’s artist collective, highly recommend a trip. While they were not among the students visiting most recently, both had been on several occasions before, including a trip to the most recent Biennial. They explained that people often do not realize what is available there, even when they do visit, so they recommend doing some research before coming. Both also pointed out that the American University of Sharjah is known for its art program, making Sharjah not only a home to great art but also a producer of some of the Emirates’ best artists.
The Sharjah Art Museum and the Sharjah Calligraphy Museum are two other specifically visual-arts related museums in Sharjah. Those interested in anything from Islamic Civilization to classic cars can pursue their interests in this Emirate. Although it may not have the tallest building in the world or plans to host international museums, the resources available in Sharjah to those interested in art, history, culture or even marine life make the Emirate well worth a visit, or several.
“Palm Trees” in the Maraya Art Center. By Cassandra Flores/The Gazelle