“Place as Provisional: Site-Specific Art Commissions in Sharjah”

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“One particular mode of cultural production in Sharjah today explicitly examines this question of ‘authentic’ place making: annual site-specific art projects commissioned by the Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF). SAF, established in 2009, is far from the only institution in the region to sponsor such a program, but what sets it apart is the explicit mandate that the international artists must respond to the local environment of Sharjah. It seems a rather surprising move for a national body to commission foreign artists to comment specifically on ‘place,’ particularly since a parallel discourse of ‘authenticity’ and ‘specificity’ accompanies the mandate. The political underpinnings of this decision may perhaps be located in a rather bald attempt to implicate the culture of Sharjah within a broader global constellation, at least in the sphere of contemporary art. Yet we might also think about these commissions as part of a broader impulse on the part of the Emirates to solidify a sense of authenticity and specificity that is always already premised on circulation, and a persistent tension between ‘inside’ and ‘outside.’ For what does it really mean to talk about ‘place’ in our contemporary context, marked as it is by the velocity of circulating information, images, products, and people, both virtual and actual?

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