Students from the College of Architecture, Art and Design (CAAD) at American University of Sharjah (AUS) have had an immersive semester experiencing Sharjah Biennial 15 through a new course delivered in collaboration with the Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF), culminating in a series of presentations of their own curatorial ideas inspired by the contemporary art exhibition.
Led by Assistant Professor Dr. Christianna Bonin, the collaboration has provided opportunities for students to gain critical skills that are needed to support the region’s fast-growing culture and arts sector through dialogue with leading art world professionals, including curators, artists, museum and gallery specialists, and architects.
Conceived by the late Okwui Enwezor and curated by Hoor Al Qasimi, Director of Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah Biennial 15: Thinking Historically in the Present (SB15) reflects on Enwezor’s visionary work, which transformed contemporary art and established an ambitious intellectual project that has influenced the evolution of institutions and biennials around the world.
Noora Al Mualla, Director of Learning and Research at Sharjah Art Foundation said the experiential course curriculum aligns with the foundation’s core mission.
“Sharjah Art Foundation aims to cultivate and promote an appreciation for the arts among young individuals and students. Our mission is to foster an environment that encourages engagement in the ever-evolving field of artmaking. It is our pleasure to have collaborated with the American University of Sharjah in developing a unique curriculum centered on Sharjah Biennial 15. This programme allowed students to study the Biennial's curation, theory and impact on the art world in an exciting and dynamic learning environment. We are dedicated to assisting educational institutions and universities with teaching materials and supporting students as they explore the critical concepts presented by the poetics and politics of visual culture,” said Al Mualla.
The interdisciplinary group of 16 students has gained a unique and foundational understanding of the skills, expertise and approaches to critical thinking that underpin the curatorial profession.
“Students have learned how to experience an exhibition as curators, critics and audience members. This roving seminar has exposed them to a wide range of artworks, curatorial approaches and topics that connect communities from diverse parts of the world. These skills are critical for developing new talent for the region’s cultural institutions and creative industries,” said Bonin.
“It has been particularly interesting to see what themes and approaches resonated with each individual student as they explored the curatorial process and how to communicate an idea visually and spatially,” she said.
First-year visual communications student Ahnaf Abdur Rahman said the course provided him with vital foundational skills.
“Other courses teach you what to think; on the other hand, ART 394 teaches you how to think. And due to its seminar nature, it forces you to actually think, or your thoughts are heavily challenged by your peers.”
While SB15 will come to a close on June 11, Dr. Bonin is exploring other venues for delivering this course in the fall.