Biennial of Interest
Beyond imperialist and colonial time frames
with Sharjah Biennial 15
A contemplation living between temporal planes, Sharjah Biennial 15: Thinking Historically in the Present exists within the same field of memory studies that texts like Morrison’s Beloved do. Addressing reality with an artistic approach, the biennial examines the imagination’s potency as a political tool. Framed as revered curator Okwui Enwezor’s swan song, Sharjah Biennial 15 was conceptualised in 2019 before his death. In this week’s Of Interest we examine the ways that the biennale challenges our limited scope of the past.
In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, the term rememory is used to identify a brand of seemingly forgotten or repressed memories. A noun, the term addresses the invisible bodies that traumatic memories occupy where, in spite of resolution or breakthroughs, the memory’s impact continues to inform one’s navigations.
In thinking historically about the present, there is an opportunity to acknowledge colonialism (a so-called past occurrence) and its contemporary impact. With this, the idea of living and thriving in spaces, where we have concrete evidence of being told we cannot, is an active assertion of the imagination. It’s surrealism and its application suggests that perhaps fantasy is the only way to begin crafting a transformative future.
During this posthumanism era exists a charged interest in the materiality and affects of memory with vast potential in the realm of contemporary art, one that Sharjah Biennial 15 buys into.
At the biennial it’s in Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi’s investigation of the people we monumentalise. Questioning the figures that come to mind when we talk about how we arrived at democracy from apartheid, the Heroes series asks who gets to be memorialised as a hero. Taking history into her own hands, she asked herself who would visualise her idea of liberation and why. Complicating personal heroes, their nuances and feats, she acknowledges political (or social) influence in narrative building – in how and who we remember.
Bringing together more than 150 artists from more than 70 countries, it may be best to contemplate the theme of Thinking Historically in the Present beyond imperialist and colonial time frames. Known to champion postcolonial practices that upend racial exclusion, Enwezor’s work prioritised rethinking conditions of possibility in ways that put Black, femme, queer and indigenous art thought and practice first. Fantasy based, reality defying these schools of thought are too far reaching to be limited.
This feature is an introduction to a series about Sharjah Biennial 15.