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Landmark Hassan Sharif retrospective presented by Sharjah Art Foundation
Jute, Cloth and Rope, 1985. United Arab Emirates Jute, cloth and rope. Dimensions variable. Consists of 27 components. Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah.

SHARJAH.- This November, Sharjah Art Foundation presents a landmark retrospective of pioneering conceptual artist Hassan Sharif, marking the largest and most comprehensive survey of the artist’s work to date. Hassan Sharif: I Am The Single Work Artist traces nearly five decades of the artist’s multimedia practice, including painting, sculpture, assemblage, drawing, installation, and photography, as well as never-before-seen late works by the artist. The entirety of Sharif’s studio— recently donated to Sharjah Art Foundation by the artist’s estate—is also on view for the first time, providing new perspective on the artist’s practice.

Curated by Sharjah Art Foundation President and Director Hoor Al Qasimi, I Am The Single Work Artist is the culmination of the artist’s lifelong role as an advocate and pioneer for the development of contemporary art and thought in the United Arab Emirates and in Sharjah, where he first began staging interventions and exhibitions of contemporary art, and exhibited at the first Sharjah Biennial in 1993. On view from 4 November 2017 to 3 February 2018, the exhibition spans all of Sharjah Art Foundation’s spaces in the Al Mureijah Square area and Bait Al Serkal in Arts Square. Admission is free and open to the public.

“Hassan Sharif was a dear friend and strong advocate for the contemporary art community here in Sharjah,” said Al Qasimi. “We are so humbled to have worked with him since his presentation at the first Sharjah Biennial in 1993, and to have witnessed his incredible impact through the years, both locally and internationally. Now, we will come full circle in mounting this significant retrospective in Sharjah, a city that was not only a site of intense artistic production for the artist, but also a place he greatly enriched through his teaching and community activities. We are pleased to have the opportunity to shine new light on Sharif’s practice and provide an international platform for the study and appreciation of his work.”

Often cited as the father of contemporary art in the United Arab Emirates, Sharif began making art in the 1970s, but soon departed from his region’s dominant art form of calligraphic abstraction and embraced the radical approaches of avant-garde movements such as Fluxism and British Constructivism. Organized thematically, I Am The Single Work Artist traces the development of Sharif’s conceptual art practice from 1973 to 2016, highlighting his unprecedented influence through key series that he revisited throughout his life, and which illustrate his enduring social and philosophical reflections on mathematical systems, time, and the banality of the everyday. The title of the exhibition is taken from an essay written by Sharif in 1989 describing his belief that “the artist occupies his or her own corner—we can call it ‘art’s corner’—repeating and creating a single work over an entire lifetime.”

Some of the earliest works featured in the exhibition are Sharif’s newspaper caricature and comic strip drawings of the 1970s, which predate his radical shift towards experimentation and conceptualism. They also reveal his prevailing interest in the rapid industrialisation and globalisation of the United Arab Emirates. The exhibition also features what are perhaps his best-known “weaving” series of assemblages or “urban archaeology objects,” which were created from inexpensive and mass-produced materials found at UAE markets and, for Sharif, represented the transformation of industrial excess into art. The retrospective explores the evolution of Sharif’s manual and repetitive process of tying these objects together—an approach that permeated his broader practice.

Sharif’s “semi systems” of the 1980s reveal the artist’s fascination with constructing intricate systems and methodologies. Often taking the form of drawings, these works illustrate games, procedures, and rules of repetition developed by the artist, which are carried out on paper and result in geometric shapes and forms. These themes are also reflected in Sharif’s photographs, sketches, and notes, documenting his “experiments” and “performances” of the 1980s, which depict him walking, digging, jumping, or dragging a rope in the desert or his studio.

Anchoring the exhibition is an installation of the artist’s studio in its entirety, which was donated to Sharjah Art Foundation by the Hassan Sharif estate for the benefit of future generations of UAE artists and scholars. All elements of his studio, including his tools and materials, have been re-installed and accessible to audiences as part of the exhibition, providing a new perspective and avenue for engagement with Sharif’s practice.

The exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensive, bilingual (Arabic/English) catalogue published by Sharjah Art Foundation, including essays by the artist and by Hoor Al Qasimi, Emirati artist Mohammed Kazem, and Emirati poet Rashid al-Khalid. Following the presentation in Sharjah, I Am The Single Work Artist will travel to partner venues internationally.

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