Sharjah Art Foundation: Providing A Serious Platform For Contemporary Art In The UAE

Sharjah Art Foundation is one of my absolute favorite places in the UAE. It provides a serious platform for contemporary art and is unexpectedly nestled in the historic heart of a traditional Emirate that has always been known for nurturing progressive thinkers and artists. It was very meaningful to me to be commissioned to write a feature on the foundation for the May issue of Open Skies, Emirates Airlines’ in-flight publication.

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The talented photographer Rebecca Rees, Bob the intern (who is actually a chirpy blonde girl from England with a name that makes the ultimate icebreaker) and I threw cameras, lenses, and notebooks into the car and spent the morning at the foundation. Our adventures involved an impossibly cool Sheikha in a pair of trendy turquoise shades, incredibly hot temperatures, and a whole lot of conceptual art. Here is an excerpt from the interview, accompanied by splendid photographs by Rebecca Rees. You can download the whole article at the foot of the post:

The coral-walled alleyways in the heritage area that lead to Sharjah Art Foundation

The coral-walled alleyways in the heritage area that lead to Sharjah Art Foundation

Holly Hendry, Homeostasis, 2014, installation, metal pipes, pillows, wadding, meranti wood, fan, initial 3D drawing

Holly Hendry, Homeostasis, 2014, installation, metal pipes, pillows, wadding, meranti wood, fan, initial 3D drawing

“Sharjah Art Foundation is based in the heart of the city’s heritage area. It is a maze of alleyways, and the walls, constructed from natural coral, once provided homes to earlier generations; that was before the discovery of oil changed everything and the residents of Sharjah moved to brand new villas in other parts of town.

Today, several black arrows direct visitors through the alleyways to a series of light filled courtyards and gallery spaces. Resplendent in bright tiles decorated with Arabic calligraphy, Al Zahra Mosque holds court nearby, and the imam’s call to prayer washes over the neighborhood like pure poetry, grounding SAF’s modern architecture in the footprints of the past.

 Gallery installation shot of Rasheed Araeen: Before and After Minimalism

Gallery installation shot of Rasheed Araeen: Before and After Minimalism

My favorite courtyard at SAF with a poetic little tree. I appreciate the contrast of the contemporary gallery architecture to the historic coral walls

My favorite courtyard at SAF with a darling little tree. I appreciate the contrast of the contemporary gallery architecture to the historic coral walls

Sheikha Nawar Al Qassimi, who directs SAF’s public relations and community relations is impossibly cool—the kind of unflappable person you would want to be around in a medical emergency. She greets us in a pair of trendy turquoise sunglasses and slumps in an office chair.

SAF, like Sheikha Nawar, is appreciably accomplished yet charmingly unaffected. “We’re all totally accessible on Instagram and Twitter, even Hoor [Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi] who is SAF’s president and director,” she says. We don’t hold exclusive VIP events or collector’s openings. Everything we do is free and open to the public.”

Sheikha Nawar Al Qassimi

Sheikha Nawar Al Qassimi

Despite the informal culture, Sheikha Nawar emphasizes that SAF is a serious enterprise. “You can visit us and view work by many of the same artists you would see at international museums such as the Tate Modern in London or the Museum of Modern Art in New York, but in a completely different setting.”

The new Urban Garden at Sharjah Art Foundation serves the entire neighborhood

The new Urban Garden at Sharjah Art Foundation serves the entire neighborhood

You can download a PDF of the full article here: Sharjah Art Foundation in Open Skies Danna Lorch

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Or you might like to download the free and interactive Open Skies app and read the entire magazine here.

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Good Idea: Sharjah Art Foundation is open 10am-10pm Saturday through Thursday and 4pm-10pm on Friday. Admission to all exhibitions and events is 100% free. The next Sharjah Biennial will take place in 2015. Plan your visit and learn more here.

Image Credits: Rebecca Rees, who also has a gorgeous photography blog that you should follow