Passion for Art
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February 2012
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Selected works from the
38th Annual Fine Arts Exhibition
Yuko Hasegawa, one of the movers and shakers in the Contemporary art world - and curator of a long list
of lauded international art events -- primarily in Asia and Latin America -- has been appointed as the Chief
Curator for the Art Sharjah Biennial. Ms. Hasegawa is currently the Head Curator at the Tokyo Museum of
Contemporary Art. As she prepares for the 11th Sharjah Biennial, to take place in March 2013 - ArtBahrain
sat down to talk to her about her plans


TAKING A FRESH LOOK AT WESTERN-CENTRISM AND GLOBALIZATION IN THE CONTEMPORARY ART WORLD

“I am very interested,” she explains, “in having the participating artists explore the Western-centrism and the dominant Western
perception of the idea of globalization.  For example,” she says, “Most discussion of globalization centers around the misperception
that globalization is something that started at the millennium and is associated with technology and communication. However, for
people like me, who were raised in Asia, and see the world in different historical terms, globalization really began in the Far, Middle
and Near East between the 8th and 14th centuries during the development of the Silk Road. 

“Although the Silk Road was of course initially a function for trade,” she goes on, “it also opened up a dialogue between many different
regions with diverse cultures, religions and political organizations, and gave people many new systems of knowledge and broadened
their horizons. The idea that ‘globalization’ began only twelve years ago, at the turn of the Millennium, is a singularly Western idea, and
stems from the Western-centrism of much taught history and art history”.

This idea of re-assessing globalization goes hand in hand with a stepping back and re-thinking the dominance of Euro and Western-
centrism as the dominant narrative in the history of art and culture as well. While many curators, professional academics in the art
world are still organizing exhibitions around the accepted linear chronology of art beginning with Roman and Greek Classicism to the
Renaissance, to 18th century neo-classicism and then finishing up with the dominance of the British Empire in the 19th century, to the
flowering of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism in France and then ending with the advent of Modern and Contemporary art as
the abstraction and Expressionism that  followed primarily in the work of German and American artists, Hasegawa correctly points out
that: “This Western-centrism has for a very long time ignored the contribution of so many exceptional aesthetic and cultural
movements in the East, in Asian countries and the Middle East - many of which pre-dated European ideas and experimentation - or
were just focused on completely different mediums and themes - that it seems time to change the prism through which we view
Contemporary art and begin a dialogue that includes many global influences”.

This philosophy, while noble, will be a tall order as Hasegawa chooses the artists and begins to discuss the work that will be on view
in Sharjah. “I realize that this is something very new and different,” she says, “but as contemporary art has become so layered in its
manifestations and mediums, it seems that we should also be taking the dialogue and discussion of global contemporary art to a
new level with regard to where it comes from and what influences have been left out”.


“THE COURTYARD” AS METAPHOR

To ground and further the aims Hasegawa discusses above, she has also chosen the theme of the “Courtyard” an important element
of Islamic architecture as a metaphor for the Biennial. “The reason I am interested in the courtyard,” Hasegawa explains, “is that it
seems to me a perfect tangible metaphor for the divide between the “private” and “public” realm in the Islamic world. For centuries
both residential and public buildings in this part of the world have been built with high walls surrounding an interior courtyard, where
people “in private” have important discussions regarding their culture and their world. The Islamic world,” she continues, “is layered.
And it is not like the West where there is little separating what is considered private and public. Therefore, for the purposes of the
Biennial, it is like a metaphorical and real protected sanctuary where artists can really open up their minds and do new and innovative
work with regard to systems of knowledge”.


SYSTEMS OF KNOWLEDGE

The phrase “systems of knowledge” is one that Hasegawa uses often in her discussion of contemporary art. She is fascinated by
how artistic mediums, themes and disciplines can expand and create a dialectic between many knowledge bases, and hopes to
incorporate that theme in choosing the artists for Sharjah and discussing their work. “I am quite interested in what is going on in film
at the moment,” she says, “I find that what many artists are doing in film is creating some of the most interesting ways of dissecting
knowledge in both an intellectual and visual way. That’s not to say that the Biennial will be dominated by filmmakers,” she laughs. “It
is just one of the currents that is occurring as the contemporary art world moves into a multi-disciplinary phase and utilizes the ever-
evolving potential of the digitization of knowledge that can be transformed through film, or photography, or sound into completely new
methods of considering art”.’


SHARJAH AS A UNIQUE LOCATION FOR ART AND CULTURE

“Another one, if not the most important mission, I have in organizing the Biennial,” Hasegawa says, “is to utilize the unique nature of
Sharjah - a place that is historic and present, social, natural, and political. It is a place that encourages thinking and negotiating with
others.

“Of course I hope that there are many visitors from around the world,” she continues, “but I am also extremely hopeful that the
population of Sharjah, including the workers from India and Asia who support the tourist infrastructure will find the show instructive in
learning about their own cultures, rather than it being something culturally distant and Western as most of these exhibitions have
been”

I don’t want the visitors to be solely those who already visit museums,” she says passionately, “or those who live in the rarefied world
of art professionals who travel from Biennial to Biennial, auction to auction and to museums and galleries. I am hopeful that the art
that is produced will be accessible to several layers of visitors, including the people who do see contemporary art around the world,
and those who have never considered attending an art show at all. I am extremely fortunate,” she finishes, “to be able to curate a
Biennial in a place that is so diverse and dynamic with so many people from varying cultures represented in a beautiful and historic
site”. 


PLANS AND THE TEAM

When asked at what stage she is with regard to choosing the artists for the Biennial and organizing a team to execute, Hasegawa
says, “At the moment I am working of course with Sharjah Art Foundation President, Sheikha Hoor Al-Qasimi, and an assistant in
Sharjah, as well as my team in Tokyo. We are all planning a sort of summit in March in which we will be speaking to artists and
concentrating our curatorial mission and execution. We may also be bringing an advisor, or several advisors on board,” she explains,
“but no decisions have been made yet about that”.

Asked if she can disclose some of the artists that she feels are currently doing the most innovative and exciting work in the Middle
East and Asia, Hasegawa is naturally reticent to name names. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself, “she laughs. “There are so many
artists doing amazing work and as this is still a work in progress I wouldn’t want to begin to include or exclude anyone”.
“I am extremely fortunate to be able to curate a Biennial in a place that is so diverse and dynamic with so many people
from varying cultures represented in a beautiful
and historic site.”
Laura Stewart in conversation with
Yuko Hasegawa
Chief Curator for the
11th Sharjah Biennial