Antonia Carver on Hassan Sharif


As part of the Annual Guide to Galleries, Museums, and Artists (A.i.A.’s August issue), we preview the 2017–18 season of museum exhibitions worldwide. In addition to offering their own top picks, our editors asked select artists, curators, and other experts to identify the shows they are looking forward to. Here, Antonia Carver talks about Hassan Sharif.

“It’s a cliché—and also a truism—that the United Arab Emirates experiences history on speed. The massive shifts that have taken place—from desert-bound lifestyles to mega-malls—within a generation have provided a wealth of inspiration to an ever-increasing community of artists. Many of these artists are Emirati nationals; others have made the UAE home, something of a refuge amid a troubled region that spreads across South Asia, Iran, Central Asia, the Arab world, and parts of Africa. Such is the pace of development that just forty-six years after its founding, the UAE has already begun feeling nostalgic for a time that’s barely passed. 

“In the autumn, the Sharjah Art Foundation is mounting a huge retrospective for the late Hassan Sharif, who is widely regarded as a father figure for today’s artists, especially those who have Conceptual and performative practices. Beginning in the 1970s he looked to his own environment for materials (cotton, cardboard, tinfoil, fishing rope) and objects (flip-flops, cutlery), creating evocative, bold sculptural and installation works that, like his performances and drawings, riff on his relationship with his urbanizing young country and its role as a trading hub. Sharif passed away in 2016, at a moment when—after many years working on the periphery of (conservative) society and sometimes butting up against the authorities—he was reaching a crescendo of local and international recognition. This wave of attention, from the market and institutions, has created a somewhat mythic persona that appears contradictory for a practitioner who was resolutely collaborative, down-to-earth: an artist’s artist.

“Two recent, smart exhibitions—at the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery and the UAE national pavilion at the Venice Biennale—have delved into Sharif’s influence and his free-wheeling artistic collaborations during the 1980s. This new show, curated by Sharjah Art Foundation president Hoor Al Qasimi, coincides with the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi in November and should provide a counterweight to the long-awaited ‘universal museum.’ There will be ample space for reflection on not only Hassan’s practice, but also the rapid development of bona fide cultural centers in countries that, until recently, the Euro-US art worlds could barely locate on the map.”


“Hassan Sharif: A Retrospective,” Sharjah Art Foundation, United Arab Emirates, Nov. 4, 2017–Feb. 3, 2018. 

ANTONIA CARVER is director of Art Jameel, a nonprofit that fosters art programming and education in the Middle East, including at the soon-to-open Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai.