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Michael Rakowitz's performance Borrowed Landscape (30.3193 ° N, 48.2543 ° E)

Photo: Sueraya Shaheen

Hoor Al Qasimi, the director of the Sharjah Art Foundation in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), often remarks that her perspective on what a biennial should be is anchored in the late Okwui Enwezor’s Documenta 11, which so famously contested a West-centric art canon in 2002, the year before her stewardship of the Sharjah Biennial began. More than two decades later, Sharjah Biennial 15, entitled Thinking Historically in the Present, is the influential Nigerian curator's final brainchild.


Gone is the more experimental flavour that set past biennials apart, particularly the last edition in 2019, which saw three curators propose works that were more fraught and less resolved. Perhaps this is a momentous occasion to reflect on how an institution comes full circle. In its 30th year, the Sharjah Biennial seems more settled and narrative-driven.

In Borrowed Landscape (30.3193 ° N, 48.2543 ° E), Michael Rakowitz reflects on the Chinese concept of Shakkei in traditional garden design, a formal composition of pre-existing natural elements in a space. His performance, situated in the abandoned farm of Al Dhaid, extrapolates from the hyphenated identities of Iraqi-Jewish ancestry to the connections that link one site to another—scorched stumps of dead palm trees echoing the dried-up date palms in war-ravaged Al Seeba in southern Iraq.

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