I’m ‘hosting’ this update because I want to support all those who made Sharjah Biennial 10 such a particularly special, even unique event across a wide range of activities and forms.
I’m framing it because these are not my own words, however close I might feel to their plea. I understand and sympathise with the dismay and indignation as well as the urgent hopes expressed that some transparency about what happened, an articulation or plausible narrative will emerge soon. Often The How is as important as The What -something which an unrelated campaign I’m involved in at home in London reiterates strongly.
Credibility is everything; very hard to achieve, impossible to fake, priceless to possess, lost very quickly -and then really hard to recover if at all…
PR, on the other hand…
[ENGLISH] Dear friends and colleagues,
Following the abrupt dismissal of Sharjah Art Foundation’s Director, Mr. Jack Persekian, members of the local, regional and international art communities were quick to mobilize, rally support and draft a petition condemning the manner of this dismissal without consultation, discussion, explanation and the subsequent removal of art works in the Biennial one month following the opening.
The petition is a collective effort authored by a group of anonymous artists, writers and curators who have had varying degrees of engagement with the infrastructure and platforms for artistic production and critical thought that the Sharjah Art Foundation has nurtured over the years.
Our call for action to boycott stems from our indignation, disappointment and refusal to accept that the hard work of creating a transnational and local arena for artistic practice and debate from within Sharjah could so quickly, arbitrarily and unilaterally be annulled, that internal politics were allowed to reign over this matter at the expense of a much needed conversation, and that artworks in the 10th Sharjah Biennial were altered without the minimum of transparency on behalf of the Foundation.
Over 1500 people have signed our petition to date, including prominent local and international artists, curators, critics and scholars, arts institutions, academic departments, and many participants in past and present editions of Sharjah Biennial. This speaks volumes about what the Biennial has offered and accomplished and what it stands to lose in the present and the future, especially in the event of further monocratic engagement with artistic and cultural production.
Sharjah Art Foundation, through its specially hired New York based private public relations firm Fitz and Co., has orchestrated a series of reactions to this mobilization by discrediting the content of the petition, denying its claims and circulating a statement attributed to Mr. Persekian, claiming that he distances himself from the petition’s principles and its call for boycott.
The statements in the petition are true. Invaluable, long-term employees have indeed resigned as a form of protest, and the Foundation cannot silence that protest by simply refusing to accept the resignations in question. In additional some artworks were in fact closed for viewing, removed and declared ‘under review’. One artwork has been permanently altered, all without prior consent from or notification to the artists.
Sharjah Art Foundation’s response to the petition and its circulation of Mr. Persekian’s statement are irrelevant to this call for boycott: in fact they miss the point. This action was taken out of principle and in solidarity, and would have readily occurred elsewhere had these same events taken place in this fashion. We maintain the demands of the boycott, which we deem clear and forthright:
1- A public acknowledgment of the events that occurred and the exact manner in which they took place, and
2- A guarantee that safeguards the intellectual independence of Sharjah Art Foundation’s multiple productions including the work of the artists involved with the Foundation.
We believe these steps to be prudent measures by which to salvage the credibility and integrity of Sharjah Art Foundation’s myriad activities, and the only way to ensure the liberty of artistic expression and cultural production in Sharjah and the region at large, all of which has even more seriously been jeopardized by this latest turn of events. We are certain that should Sharjah Art Foundation choose to do nothing about this situation, they are already in the midst of a boycott by default, regardless of whether it is officially announced on our part or not.
Thank you for you solidarity and support.
Sharjah has achieved a very particular credibility and yes, maybe the special sensibility flourishing there is something you need to be able to ‘get’ in order to appreciate this fully. I’m in central London where it would be impossible to attempt what was staged in Sharjah, intellectually not merely financially. London’s institutions and visual art infrastructure own no smugness on this score [there is a lot going on in London and hooray for that, but often it leaves you wanting more; depth, substance, fullness, breadth, ambition!] and of course the truth of that underscores what is at stake here…
It will or would be very hard indeed to find such productive conditions anywhere else in the world and as such I hope you pick up the nuances of that remark… Equally, I think that a transparent approach to this from SAF [which -I’m going to insist- I say from the world not from a city with a very limited self critical attitude to it’s own poor governance and notions of transparency, let alone its love of war!] would be smart [at the very least], so that the swirl of rumours, hurt even outrage is confronted with the worst of it [truth] and those involved can begin to rebuild or relocate…
I can’t write these things without also saying that my own experience and relationship with SAF had the privilege of some testing and stretch and that I could not have been treated with more honesty and respect or experience any less interference -not even my grammar has been corrected/altered! I have to write, because I verbalised it often and not least during opening week, that the Biennial was so strong that it was and is hard to imagine it bettered… with all the consequences that come with such a thought. What a note to go out on! for example. Or; if you gamble big like this…
However, what actually did happen is not acceptable, it looks very much as though events were driven by scapegoating [against a well recorded, albeit not in the British press, backdrop]. I respect anyone with the courage to stand up and articulate a view that disagrees with my own… whereupon it’s possible and necessary to do the same and this is what the common ground of civility means and is [with thanks to Ahdaf Soueif!]. It belongs to urban, nomadic and matriarchal tribal cultures, those of the mid continent and mountains as well as islands and ports… It’s almost the only thing that really matters -this ‘ear to the other’.