When Art Dubai opens next month, it will be almost six months to the day after Hassan Sharif, the UAE’s greatest contemporary artist, died.
The Emirati lost his battle with cancer in September, at the age of 65, and many people feel the art fair is the perfect platform from to honour his memory – not least its new director, Myrna Ayad.
“We are extremely proud to pay tribute to this master, who touched the lives of so many,” she says. “He was known as the father of conceptual art for the UAE, and several aspects of the fair will honour that.”
Gallery Isabelle Van Den Eynde, the Dubai gallery that represented Sharif, will exhibit a seven-metre-high sculpture made of cotton rope – the last artwork Sharif completed.
Yasmina Reggad, an independent curator who is working with Art Dubai to produce new performance works as part of the non-commercial programme, will stage a special performance dedicated to Sharif at the Gallery Isabelle Van Den Eynde booth.
If-Then Goto is a collaboration with dancer and choreographer Lana Fahmi, based on the artist’s diagrams, instructions and performance archive. “Hassan Sharif was a pioneer and advocate of performance art in the Gulf, at the same time he was accompanying and contributing to the international developments of this medium in the 1980s,” said Reggad and Fahmi.
“He also believed that performance art was a universal territory where artists could develop their own singularity. He not only was a visionary passeur but also a brave provocateur, and he was very aware of the challenges and urge of the building of an audience for performance art in the UAE. We hope to retrospectively bring a wider audience to his work.”
They said they also hope audiences will appreciate Cotton Rope in a new way after seeing their dance performance at the fair.
Another way to shed light on Sharif’s work is to trace the threads of his influence among the generations of artists who followed him.
Cristiana De Marchi attempts to do this with her curated exhibition Homage Without An Homage, which will be exhibited at Art Dubai in the Julius Baer Lounge.
The exhibition will reflect upon Sharif’s legacy by showing the work of 12 other artists. This, says de Marchi, is a way of remembering his character and legacy.
“Hassan was a really ironic man,” she says. “When I was first asked to curate this show I thought of a title. I didn’t want to choose something too emphatic, nor did I want to diminish the principle of honouring his memory. Yet I really wanted to incorporate that sense of irony – of detachment and of irreverence that characterised Hassan.”
Included in the exhibition will be works on paper by Hussein Sharif, Hassan’s brother. Mohammed Kazem and Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim, who worked closely beside him throughout his life, will also have works on show, as will female artists Layla Juma and Ebtisam Abdulaziz, who were influenced by Sharif.
“I was working on the elements of connection and personal relations that he had with his fellow artists,” says de Marchi. “The red thread that links them is the atmosphere of conversation and exchange of ideas that reflected on the practise of other artists, but which is primarily related to Hassan.”
Mohammed Jumairy, a young and promising artist, will show a video work that was commissioned last year by Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah. Although the artist denies any direct link to Sharif’s work, it is nonetheless a performance in the desert, something Sharif pioneered.
Another interesting piece is Shaikh Al Mazrou’s sculpture, Comfortable I. Sharif was a mentor to Al Mazrou, and although her work is very different, he certainly had a great effect on her practise.
Sharif’s presence will also be felt in the exhibition through footage of interviews he gave, as well as a film by Indian filmmaker Valsalan Kanara. Al Tashkeel, the magazine published by the Emirates Fine Arts Society, of which Sharif was a founding member, will publish a special edition at the fair. The publication, which will be over 300 pages and printed in English and Arabic, will include several of Sharif’s writings, archive interviews and tributes from the artistic community.
Nasser Abdullah, the chairman of the society and editor-in-chief of Al Tashkeel, which he helped to relaunch in 2015, says he started work on the tribute publication as soon as he learnt of Sharif’s death.
“Hassan was the teacher of everyone,” he says. “For me, personally, he was a mentor and an inspiration, as well as being one of the first writers for the magazine when it began in 1984.
“He was a true pioneer and we owe it to him to remember that.”
• Art Dubai runs from March 15 to 18 at Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai. <URL destination="www.artdubai.ae%20">www.artdubai.ae