"The godfather of conceptual art " in the Gulf, Emirati Hassan Sharif died on September 18 at the age of 65.
Sharif was not only a pre-eminent artist, but a visionary. He was an architect of a regional art world that might still be budding, but that the greats of the arts world keep a very close eye on. The region's arts scene is about to burst with stories and artistic renderings of a region with beautiful contradictions, and Sharif saw this decades ago.
“Sharif was probably the greatest artist from the UAE and was active at a time when the fledgling [UAE] federation, that was formed only in 1971, was seeking an identity and a place in the world," said Sultan Al-Qassemi, social influencer and founder of Barjeel Art Foundation, according to the Art Newspaper.
"Sharif, to a large degree, helped define that identity.”
In memory of Sharif's legacy, here's a look at 6 contributions he made to the region's art scene:
1. Sharif helped found some of the first arts institution in the country in the 1980s, sowing the seeds of the arts scene that would later flourish.
The Emirates Fine Arts Society, of which Sharif was a founding member, was established as a non-profit association of arts professionals in the UAE in 1980s. He also founded the Al Marijah Art Atelier in 1984. The atelier was a meeting place for emerging artists in the country, and offered mentorship. It also encouraged artistic interventions in the city of Sharjah.
The UAE was established as a state in 1971, so the arts institutions that Sharif set up came to life when Emirati cities were still small and relatively under-developed (especially compared to the maze of mega-structures that they are now). One can easily say that Sharif paved the path for a country that would go on to host some of the most pre-eminent international artistic events such as the Sharjah Biennial of the Sharjah Art Foundation and the Dubai International Film Festival.
2. He drew caricatures for the UAE's very new newspapers in the 1970s at a very important social and political juncture
-I want you to buy these waters.
-But they're going to build an island here in two years!
Sharif's caricatures were a much needed voice to address the confusion that came out of the UAE's rapid development in the 1970s. They also served as biting commentary about the shifting sands of regional politics.
3. He is widely considered to be a pioneer of conceptual art in the Middle East
"Spoofing the language of academics and local politicians, Sharif’s early performances involved doing extraordinarily mundane tasks, such as tying rope to a rock, and proclaiming these to be real triumphs," wrote Art News in their Hassan Sharif obituary.
"For Sharif, these were ways of penetrating systems—disrupting, parodying, and then opening them."
4. He assembled one of the first artistic interventions in Sharjah in 1985
"The visit destabilized my thinking and challenged fixed ideas I had cherished for years about the role of poetry and art," Khalid Badr Obaid wrote in his essay A New Window for Art . He was referring to the "One Day Exhibition" that Sharif and artist Abdul Rahim Salem conducted in Sharjah's central market.
5. He co-founded a Dubai institution for the promotion of contemporary Emirati artists, " The Flying House "
The "Flying House" is a non-profit gallery that played an important role for artists who did not have commercial gallery representation.
6. Sharif used the surplus of materials from a industrialized UAE to create artwork
Sharif was widely known for his "weaving" which he began in the 1980s by creating assemblages from cheap, mass-produced materials all from the UAE's markets.
7. Sharif's work has exhibited widely in solo and group exhibitions
Some of these exhibitions include All The World's Futures, UAE National Pavilion, La Biennale di Venezia, 56th International Art Exhibition in Venice, Here and Elsewhere in New York.
8. Sharif was selected to represent the UAE at the 2009 Venice Biennale
Hoor Al Qasimi, founder of the Sharjah Art Foundation, featured Sharif's work in her curated exhibition for the UAE Pavilion in Venice in 2015 as well.