000595055_20230314173833_HA-I 8151 (5)

Sharjah Biennial 15: Thinking Historically in the Present

LocationSharjah Art Foundation
DateFebruary 7 - June 11, 2023
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.
Hangama Amiri, Threshold, 2023

When the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in 1996, I was six years old. I remember vividly the drastic changes in life when the Taliban announced the educational ban for girls and barred women from being in the public without a male guardian. My family sought refuge in Pakistan and Tajikistan soon after. As a result, my early years were spent between schools in different countries, many of them were Islamic gender-segregated schools.
As the Taliban returned to Afghanistan in 2021, girls from grades 6-12 were again deprived of education. Female educators were removed from their positions. Moreover, "The Women's Affairs Ministry" replaced "Ministry for Preaching and Guidance and the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice." The exclusion of women's participation in society under the Taliban's rule strikes as an urgent threat to women's rights in Afghanistan nowadays and furthermore portrays a disconcerting future for young Afghan girls.
Education in Afghanistan has mainly been formed and performed by and for patriarchal structures. Women have been a byproduct of the political agenda as different regimes seized power in Afghanistan. Knowledge, literacy, and language, as a result, have been controlled through the male-dominated systems. In the past 20 years, Afghan girls' schools have been a significant part of the US nation-building projects, more so in urban provinces and less so in rural areas where the constant war and conflicts posed a hardship for girls to go to schools. However, after the withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan in 2021, the girls' educational system collapsed alongside the US-backed Afghan government.
This long-standing inequality of gender and power has dominated women's involvement in politics, economics, and cultures. Today there is an urgent need to advocate for an education system developed for women's needs, status, and self- realization.
For the 2023 Sharjah Biennial, I would like to bring light to the inequality women face in the education system in Afghanistan. I will weave together my personal memory from elementary schools with my studies on the material specificity in Afghan classroom settings. I propose a large-scale textile installation titled Threshold that consists of a mural-sized textile piece and 18 sets of school tables with benches that are often seen in the schools of Afghanistan.
The choice of black and white fabrics for the textile piece resembles the colors of Afghan girls' school uniforms. Various hand-sewn fabrics make up the textile drape and create hybrid demography of the materials, as well as specify each material for where it originates. By assembling velvet, chiffon, lace, cotton, linen, and polyester, the textile piece will expand its materiality through a lens of obscurity, opacity, and visibility. Alongside the mural-sized textile, I will build life-size identical school benches and tables used in Afghanistan while many of them were European-made school chairs distributed throughout the local schools by the UN and other international NGOs.
The tactility feeling of fabric in comparison to the man-made wooden object embodies my memories of studying in schools in Afghanistan. I am interested in exploring the emotional and physical contrast between the hard-edge wooden chairs and the soft, transparent, seductive materials such as fabric.
Another reason for the emphasis on materiality is tied to the ideas of heterotopia and its notion of object migration (“Of the Other Spaces,” 1986) — worlds within a world, mirroring but delineating what is outside, marking the displacement of an object from its origin. Thinking through these veins of hegemony experiences, I’m bringing a physical space in the installation that could also tackle ideas of liminality, in between spaces, a threshold that I can reconnect with my childhood memories, as well as connect with community with similar experience due to Afghanistan’s ongoing political issues.
While thinking historically into the present, I am interested in changing the narrative around girls’ education in Afghanistan. The installation creates a reorientation of the classroom through the arrangement of space. The school table and benches face the textile piece while the mural-sized textile hangs between the classrooms. Through heterotopic, interactive immersive experiences my installation, Threshold creates a space that is dedicated as a testimony to invisible women’s labor and education while exploring women’s experiences in gender culture in post-Talibanized society.
–Hangama Amiri

Past Exhibitions