Sharjah Biennial 15: Thinking Historically in the Present

7 February - 11 June 2023

We are pleased to present the works of Anju Dodiya, Archana Hande, Lavanaya Mani, Mithu Sen, Nilima Sheikh, Reena Saini Kallat, Varunika Saraf and Vivan Sundaram at the Sharjah Biennial 15.


Conceived by the late Okwui Enwezor and curated by Hoor Al Qasimi, Director of Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah Biennial 15: Thinking Historically in the Present (SB15) reflects on Enwezor’s visionary work, which transformed contemporary art and established an ambitious intellectual project that has influenced the evolution of institutions and biennials around the world.

Hoor Al Qasimi interprets and re-envisions the titular proposal by the late thinker to critically centre the past within the contemporary moment. Al Qasimi develops the concept of ‘thinking historically in the present’ by adopting a working methodology that privileges the role of intuition and incidence. Acknowledging the effect Enwezor’s documenta 11 had in transforming her curatorial consciousness, she also builds upon her own long-term relationship with the Biennial, as visitor, artist, curator, and eventually, as director of the Foundation, an institution that came into being as a result of the Biennial, a fact Enwezor appreciably recognised.

SB15 will thus position Sharjah’s own lived past within the transcultural universe of thought furthered by over 300 works by over 150 artists and collectives, which will be installed in 5 cities and towns across the emirate. Participating artists have been consciously evolving practices that critique monolithic understandings of nationhood, tradition, race, gender, body and imagination, which inform the Biennial’s intersectional thematic. Enwezor’s proposition of the ‘postcolonial constellation’ and its pluriverse of key concepts form one point of departure as SB15 enables nuanced conversations around postcolonial subjectivity, the body as a repository of memories, processes of creolisation and hybridisation, the restitution of museumised objects, the racialising gaze, transgenerational continuities, global modernisms, indigeneity and decolonisation.

The 30th anniversary edition serves as a vantage point for the Biennial to reflect upon its cultural heritage and historical influence, the artistic possibilities it has enabled, and its role in linking Sharjah to transnational intellectual and artistic discourses. It is a moment for the Foundation to consider its institutional trajectory within its unique geopolitical location while continuing its expanding commitment to communities across the United Arab Emirates. The Biennial will engage audiences through ongoing learning activities and community outreach as well as a diverse programme of performance, music and film.

SB15 locates itself in continuity with past editions of the Biennial as well as the 2021 and 2022 iterations of March Meeting—the Foundation’s annual convening of artists, curators and arts practitioners exploring critical issues in contemporary art—which served as a collective prelude. March Meeting 2021: Unravelling the Present examined the 30-year history of Sharjah Biennial and the future of the biennial model, while March Meeting 2022: The Afterlives of the Postcolonial discussed the legacies of colonialism as well as emerging issues that have impacted recent global cultural, aesthetic and artistic practices. March Meeting 2023, taking place from 9 to 12 March, will continue the exploration of the SB15 themes while the exhibition is on view.

Thinking Historically in the Present has been realised with the support the SB15 Working Group, comprised of Tarek Abou El Fetouh (Director of Performance and Senior Curator, Sharjah Art Foundation), Ute Meta Bauer (professor and Founding Director, NTU CCA Singapore), Salah M. Hassan (professor and art historian, Cornell University, and Director of The Africa Institute, Sharjah), Chika Okeke-Agulu (professor and art historian, Princeton University) and Octavio Zaya (independent curator, art writer and Executive Director, Cuban Art Foundation), alongside an Advisory Committee that includes Sir David Adjaye (architect) and Christine Tohmé (Director, Ashkal Alwan, Beirut).

Installation Views