Beej: Sowing Seeds in a Sharjah Roundabout

Vikram Divecha. Courtesy National Pavilion UAE

One of only three UAE artists to take part in the Sharjah Biennial and also part of the UAE’s National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, Vikram Divecha is having a good year. 

Mumbai-born but Dubai-based for the past decade, Divecha’s way of working has always been to infiltrate the city and produce art from its nascent structure. His practice revolves around intervention and interrupting existing systems, calling this way of working "found processes". He also produces art that involves other people, whom he calls collaborators. These co-artists are not art professionals. He often works with the people who build or maintain the city and plays with the idea of ownership and control. In previous projects, he allowed labourers to lay bricks in haphazard fashion – this was Degenerative Disarrangement, which is the project showing in Venice. He also worked with gardeners to shape hedges to their liking, hired amateur artists to paint his portrait and also set up an import-export company to take over a warehouse and laid his artistic focus on the constantly changing sculptures made of cardboard boxes.

Vikram Divecha, Beej, 2017. Intervention at roundabout in Al Naba’ ah area of Sharjah. Installation view, Sharjah Biennial 13, 2017. Unregistered seeds, soil, water and supplies. Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation. Courtesy of the artist. Image Courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation.

"I work with available material, labour and space and I try to hijack situations of infrastructure and operations of commerce," he says.

His current project, Beej, was unveiled at Sharjah Biennial 13. For this, he is working with municipal gardeners – mostly farmers from Pakistan – to plant seeds and grow crops on a roundabout. The farmers travelled to their home towns, brought seeds back to Sharjah with them and after the long, hot UAE summer, they will plant them. Eventually, the roundabout will be a functioning crop-spot, where anyone will be able to help themselves to the food that grows. The idea is to question the notion of ownership of land in a transient society. How much claim can anyone have over this land if they have come from abroad? How difficult is it to lay roots in a country where you will always have to return home? These are issues at the core of society from whatever strata in the UAE and so cleverly addressed with this project. 

Although currently, there is quite literally nothing to see but a soil-filled roundabout, this project is all about the process and the gestures behind it. Something that makes Divecha a great talent and certainly someone to follow.  

 Vikram Divecha, Beej, 2017. Intervention at roundabout in Al Naba’ ah area of Sharjah. Installation view, Sharjah Biennial 13, 2017. Unregistered seeds, soil, water and supplies. Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation. Courtesy of the artist. Image Courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation.

Vikram Divecha, Beej, 2017. Intervention at roundabout in Al Naba’ ah area of Sharjah. Installation view, Sharjah Biennial 13, 2017. Unregistered seeds, soil, water and supplies. Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation. Courtesy of the artist. Image Courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation.