Posted November 3, 2020 9:29 am by

Beyond Dubai’s shadow, Sharjah shines light on Arab art

Curator Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi pictured at Sharjah Art Museum © AFP / Karim SAHIB

Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, Nov 3 – It doesn’t have the malls of Dubai or the mega-projects of Abu Dhabi, but the conservative Gulf emirate of Sharjah has carved out a role for itself as a cultural capital.

The unassuming emirate, often overlooked by visitors in favour of its glitzier neighbours, is ruled by Sheikh Sultan bin Mohamed Al-Qasimi, known for his keen interest in art and history.

Its cultural calendar has evolved to feature book fairs, exhibitions at more than a dozen museums and festivals that celebrate photography, theatre, poetry and calligraphy.

At the Museum of Sharjah, works on display showcase everything from daily life in the Old City of Yemen’s capital Sanaa to a massacre of Palestinian refugees by Israel-allied Christian militia during Lebanon’s civil war.

“We are providing an artistic service for the Arab world,” said Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi, a well-known Emirati academic with half a million followers on Twitter, strolling through the galleries.

The Barjeel Art Foundation which he founded in 2010 aims to preserve and exhibit more than 1,000 modern and contemporary pieces by Arab artists.

“Sharjah is not the richest emirate in the Gulf, but it is in terms of being the richest culturally,” said the 42-year-old who has taught in universities in the United States and France.

– ‘Go local’ –

Sharjah is one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, an innovative and oil-rich country which has poured huge sums into culture.

In 2017, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a branch of the iconic Paris museum, opened its doors — attracting some two million visitors in its first two years of operation.

Beyond Dubai’s shadow, Sharjah shines light on Arab art

Work depicting the killing of Palestinians to daily life in Yemen’s Old City of Sanaa come alive in the Gulf emirate of Sharjah © AFP / Karim SAHIB

The financial and entertainment hub of Dubai hosts a number of contemporary art galleries, and is next year to host the multi-billion-dollar world exhibition — Expo 2020 — with major arts components.

But it is Sharjah, probably best known for its total ban on alcohol, that has claimed the country’s cultural crown.

Its place on the global art scene has been sealed by the Sharjah Biennial, a large-scale exhibition of contemporary works which it hosts every two years.

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