In art, a biennale commonly refers to an exhibition of contemporary art on an international scale that takes place as an alternative to regular gallery shows. The crème de la crème of the art world is invited to participate in the event, along with prominent international artists, whose work has been acquired and housed in collections, museums and galleries all over the world.
Biennales continue to be held in major cities of the world and, in doing so, they celebrate the history, character and culture of the host city. Their success is closely tied to the promotion of tourism, commerce and a healthy exchange of ideas. Last year, the Lahore Biennale Foundation (LBF) hosted its inaugural edition that featured both local and international artists from countries such as Austria, Sri Lanka, India, Turkey, the UK, the US and Bangladesh. The event was hugely successful in attracting an audience of 1.5 million. It set a precedent for fostering a relationship between art and the public in Lahore. Sculptures, installations and displays at strategic sites attracted the attention of people belonging to all walks of life.
The groundwork for the concept and development of a second biennale in Lahore is already underway. In a landmark move, the LBF has announced that Hoor Al Qasimi, president and director of Sharjah Art Foundation — which was established in 2009 — will be curating the second edition of this event. This announcement comes only six months after the inaugural Lahore Biennale and highlights the growing importance of such events as well as the recognition of this platform in the region. Qasimi’s portfolio includes curation of major exhibitions and surveys of Middle Eastern, African and global art. Not only will she help cement Lahore’s position as a major art capital but will also help strengthen the relationship between the two regions and their respective art communities. Qasimi is a curator and practicing artist who received her BFA from the Slade School of Fine Art, London (2002) and a diploma in painting (2005) and an MA in Curating Contemporary Art from the Royal College of Art, London (2008). In 2003, she was appointed curator of Sharjah Biennial 6 and has since continued as its director.
The appointment of Sharjah Art Foundation’s Hoor Al Qasimi as curator of the next Lahore Biennale will help strengthen the relationship between the art communities of two regions
Biennales have a history that is rooted in the promotion of a Western-centric idea of modernity. This perception has begun to change over the years though. With the mushrooming growth and popularity of this platform, biennales are now held in different capitals of the world and highlight contributions of artists from non-western countries as well. The inclusion of non-Western artists has also meant that the hegemony of the Western artistic canon is now being actively challenged. Therefore, Qasimi’s appointment heralds possibilities that will help contribute to the writing of new artistic narratives in the creative arena of art within a global framework. The Sharjah Foundation, in particular, has been instrumental in this regard as styles, art movements and innovations that took place in non-Western countries and had hitherto gone unnoticed are now being acknowledged because of her resolve to challenge the status quo.
At a press conference organised by the LBF to announce her appointment, Qasimi explained that “across the world, the biennial is never purely a national art exhibition. At its best, the biennial platform offers a rich dialogue between local and international perspectives. It is important in the Pakistani context for us to continue to develop greater awareness of our region and be more aware of global frameworks, and likewise, for the international art world to become more engaged with developments in Pakistan.
“The people are as important as spaces” emphasised Qasimi as she outlined the valuable contribution that the Sharjah Foundation had played in propagating this philosophy. The promotion of art projects/installations and cultural events specifically within the historic Old City allowed its inhabitants to engage with their surroundings in new and exciting contexts under the umbrella of art. The inaugural Lahore Biennale (LB01) echoed a similar iteration in the envisioning and use of space, where site-specific artworks transformed historic spaces such as Lawrence Garden, Lahore Fort, Lahore Museum and Shahi Hamam. Such sensibilities and histories that are already in sync will become the catalyst for driving this collaboration forward in the future.
Moreover, the Sharjah Foundation assisted LB01 through the loan of Bangladeshi artist Naeem Mohaiemen’s work and Pakistani artists Basir Mehmood, Shahzia Sikander, Imran Qureshi and Rashid Araeen have been supported by the foundation in the past.
Art diplomacy can become a major conduit for fostering harmony and cultivating a shared love of the creative arts among people.
It emphasises commonality, and the potential of this transformational power of art needs to be explored.
Published in Dawn, EOS, December 16th, 2018