Sharjah might not be as famous as its neighbor Dubai, but the third-most-populous emirate in the United Arab Emirates has in recent decades established itself as a haven for contemporary art and design. And this year, two huge cultural events are turning up the heat in the desert.
This month, Sharjah is kicking off the 15th edition of its art biennial, a festival that was launched in 1993 and is curated by Hoor Al Qasimi, the president and director of the Sharjah Art Foundation. This year’s event, titled Thinking Historically in the Present, was conceived by the late Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor, and it runs until June, bringing together more than 160 artists and collectives from 70-plus countries—ranging from rising UAE-born photographer Farah Al Qasimi to British director and artist Steve McQueen—in a program that reflects on how contemporary art engages with history, politics, and society.
What’s more, later this year the emirate plans to hold the second edition of the Sharjah Architecture Triennial. Titled The Beauty of Impermanence: An Architecture of Adaptability, this exposition explores how scarcity creates a culture of reuse, reappropriation, innovation, collaboration, and adaptation, with public programming curated by Nigerian architect Tosin Oshinowo.
“Sharjah has always been a place that’s invested in culture, heritage, archaeology, the environment, education, and future generations,” says Hoor Al Qasimi. “Major events like these have solidified Sharjah as a destination for art and design, and people around the world are taking notice of what we’re doing.”
Indeed, appreciators of arts and culture who want to explore what Sharjah has to offer aren’t limited to these events. See below for five can’t-miss spots around the emirate.
5 Sharjah Essentials
Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council
The ICCC champions female craftspeople from the Greater Middle East, who use their traditional skills to create contemporary design products. See their work at the ICCC showroom in Al Rifa’ah.
Walk through a downpour without getting wet by visiting this immersive installation in Al Majarrah by the art group Random International.
This location near the American University is the newest of six cafés the Sharjah-based chain Hoof has opened around the UAE. Enjoy specialty coffees and labneh on toast in a minimalist, nature-inspired interior.
The Chedi Al Bait, Sharjah, UAE
Opened in 2018, this 53-room luxury hotel occupies five historic houses. Sharjah’s cultural heritage is evident in everything from the architecture to the on-site library and museum.
Maraya Art Centre
Founded in 2006, this nonprofit organization provides a platform for regional artists and designers, whose work you can take in at the Maraya Art Gallery and Maraya Art Park.