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Michael Rakowitz

Framed as the revered curator’s final project, the next edition of the Sharjah Biennial was conceived by Okwui Enwezor before his death in 2019 and will feature more than 140 artists. Originally scheduled for 2021, it will run 7 February-11 June 2023 at more than 15 sites throughout the emirate of Sharjah. The biennial’s 15th edition, it will be titled Thinking Historically in the Present and is being curated by the Sharjah Art Foundation’s director Hoor Al Qasimi.

“With gratitude to Okwui and the ambitious intellectual project he conceived, we are organising a Biennial that builds on and honours his vision to probe the past, present and future role that biennials and institutions, including the Sharjah Biennial and the Foundation, can serve,” Al Qasimi says in a statement. “We look forward to welcoming local audiences and visitors from around the world to reflect on the themes the Biennial explores and the wide-ranging perspectives of the participating artists.”

Those artists will include a number of major international figures, such as: moving image artists Steve McQueen, John Akomfrah and Isaac Julien, conceptual artists Cao Fei, Mona Hatoum, Michael Rakowitz and Carrie Mae Weems, sculptors Kader Attia and Wangechi Mutu, photographer Hassan Hajjaj, painter Kerry James Marshall and textile artists Ibrahim Mahama and Diedrick Brackens.

Works on view will include 30 new commissions. Al Qasimi is executing the exhibition in consultation with a five-curator working group and an advisory committee that features architect David Adjaye and curator Christine Tohmé, the director of Beirut nonprofit Ashkal Alwan. The 14th edition of the Sharjah Biennial, in 2019, was conceived as three separate exhibitions, each organised by a different curator (Zoe Butt, Omar Kholeif and Claire Tancons).

The 30th anniversary edition of the Sharjah Biennial would have been a fitting platform for Enwezor, who (along with Serpentine Galleries artistic director Hans Ulrich Obrist and Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev) has arguably done more than any other curator to shape the discourse and formats of international biennials and other recurring exhibitions. His omnivorous and ever-expanding approach to contemporary art was crystalised in 2002, when he curated that year’s edition of the German quinquennial Documenta in Kassel. His curatorial style became both more refined and more ambitious over the next two decades as he curated the 2006 Sevilla Bienal, the 2008 edition of South Korea’s Gwangju Biennale, the 2012 Paris Triennale and, most famously, the 2015 Venice Biennale.

In addition to curating influential recurring exhibitions around the globe, Enwezor organised major museum exhibitions in Africa, the Americas, Europe and Asia—including, last year, "Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America" at the New Museum in New York. He also held a number of prominent institutional roles in the US and Europe, culminating in his stint as the director of Munich’s Haus der Kunst from 2011 to 2018. He died of cancer, aged 55, in March 2019.

The latest list of artists included in the 2023 Sharjah Biennial (the list is reportedly still in formation) can be found on the foundation’s website.

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