Sharjah Art Foundation announces winners of the Focal Point 2020 Publishing Grant

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Sharjah Art Foundation announces winners of the Focal Point 2020 Publishing Grant
Focal Point art book fair, 2019. Bait Obaid Al Shamsi. Photo: Sharjah Art Foundation.

SHARJAH.- Sharjah Art Foundation today announced the recipients of the second Focal Point Publishing Grant, an annual fund supporting artistic and research-driven publishing practices that advance scholarly examination of art history in the region and the wider world. Grant recipients Ali Essafi, Ridha Moumni, Gabriella Nugent and hākārā were announced on the opening day of the third Focal Point Art Book Fair in the Foundation’s heritage venue Bait Obaid Al Shamsi. Selected from more than 100 submissions received after an international open call, the winners will share a total of 27,000 USD to support research projects in the Long-Form Essay and Publication Reprint categories. To be completed over the course of the next year, the projects will be published by Sharjah Art Foundation and presented at future editions of the Focal Point Art Book Fair.

In line with the overarching theme of Sharjah Biennial­­ 15 (due to open in spring 2022), which is highlighted in its title—Thinking Historically in the Present— the grant’s open call was directed towards supporting art historical research focusing on global modernism in the MEASA (Middle East, Africa and South Asia) region. Individual scholars, research teams, publishing houses and public institutions were all invited to submit proposals.

The first three projects are long-form essays; the final project is a publication reprint.

Long-Form Essays
In his long-form essay, Ali Essafi will examine the North African tradition of the Halakat, explored as a lost experimental narrative format through the works of three pioneering filmmakers of the postcolonial Maghreb: Memory 14 (1971) by Ahmed Bouanani (Morocco), Mohammadia (1974) by Ahmed Bennys (Tunisia) and How Much I Love You (1985) by Azzedine Meddour (Algeria). These films deconstructed the official discourse of colonial history and were either censored or marginalised. They have since been mostly ignored by local and international audiences.

Ridha Moumni’s text will explore the political legacy of the School of Tunis (1943–1979) in fostering the cult of Habib Bourguiba and his prominence in Tunisian culture and history. Challenging the predominant historical narrative that the School of Tunis operated independently of the State, the essay will argue that its founding artists had a close relationship with Tunisia’s first independent government. Their paintings and sculptures filled the new government’s modernist edifices, thereby shaping the nation’s urban landscapes and creating a distinctive iconography in service of the independent nation’s first regime.

Gabriella Nugent 's essay will situate Egyptian artist Inji Efflatoun’s artwork within broader global networks and explore her relationship with Mexican muralists David Alfaro Siqueiros, Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, specifically her 1956 encounter with Siqueiros, which prompted her interest in social realism. Through the examination of an archive of personal correspondence, the research hopes to shed light on how the friendship influenced Efflatoun’s adoption of the language and philosophy of Mexican muralism to address the political situation in Egypt and how she challenged the muralists’ masculinist vision of the world rooted in European modernism.

Publication Reprint
The online bilingual journal hākārā proposes the mapping of regional modernism in India in the form of a visual arts reader. Bringing together critical essays, travelogues, symposia, images and narrative writing from the archives of Marathi periodicals from the 1940s to the 1960s, the reader will reproduce and translate into English 10 to 12 historical texts published originally in Marathi, which will be presented alongside a supporting introductory essay. Researched and introduced by Ashutosh Potdar (FLAME University, Pune) and Noopur Desai (Asia Art Archive, New Delhi), the reader will attempt to provide rich, representative formulations of modernism that can lead to a possible reassessment of the social and cultural movement from a contemporary perspective.

Publishing and supporting publishing practices are central to Sharjah Art Foundation's work. Since its establishment in 2009, the Foundation has published a variety of books on modern and contemporary art, including artist books, catalogues and scholarly volumes. The Foundation supports the research-based efforts of visiting artists, curators and scholars year-round and publishes catalogues for biennials and curated exhibitions, which are made available to local, regional and international audiences interested in contemporary art and publishing.

The third edition of the Focal Point Art Book Fair runs from 16 to 19 December 2020 in Bait Obaid Al Shamsi, Arts Square. This iteration of the fair features printed matter from the MEASA region, such as artist books, academic volumes and journals, as well as zines and other artistic production by UAE creatives. Usually host to interdisciplinary art publications and independent and alternative practices, FOCAL POINT 2020 has expanded its reach to include titles on art history, theory and criticism, many of which have been sourced through academic presses. The four-day event also features a variety of creative workshops suitable for children of all ages and their parents along with live music performances by local bands Edges N Sways and Godfist.

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