Sharjah's Biennial School in final flourish

Participants during a practical course with artisans in the fishing trade. Image courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation.

Participants during a practical course with artisans in the fishing trade. Image courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation.

Almost a year after it started, the educational initiative that runs in parallel with the Sharjah Biennial is coming to a close. A final flourish of programming is planned for the next couple of weeks before The SB13 School takes a bow.

Launched in October 2016, the school was part of Christine Tohme’s vision for the biennial to spread its net wide across the UAE. The aim was to allow members of the public to engage with the biennial and also to show that art can relate to many aspects of life, far beyond traditionally accepted media and form.

Tohme deliberately dislocated the art exhibitions across four cities and into two acts. She also chose four subtitles that related to what she called life elements: earth, water, crops and culinary. For the school, it was the task of Noora Al Mualla to put together a schedule of practical workshops that reflected these themes and the diversity of the event.

“We took the general idea and essence and then related them to three of our art centres,” says Al Mualla, the Art Centres Manager at Sharjah Art Foundation. “We wanted to show how the elements Christine chose are integrated into our life system and also that things like cookery and other traditional crafts are also arts. The response was fantastic.”

Her main priority was to make the most of the varied environment in Sharjah. So, at the Al Madam Art Centre courses focused on farming as well as archaeological findings in the region. Participants learned how to make will pottery and crockery inspired by the archaeological findings. Emirati artist Azza Al Qubaisi also took a group out into the desert to collect objects with which to create jewellery.  A series of culinary workshops taught Emirati cuisine as well how to make local dairy products and learning about herbs and spices.

The Al Hamriyah Art Centre, participants were involved in making an urban garden. They learned how to make art with recycled material as well as practical tasks such as composting, gardening and making natural dyes.

At Kalba Art Centre, on Sharjah’s coast courses were held that explored the element of earth by working with minerals such as stone, clay and copper. There was also a focus on the sea with course in how to make fishing nets and equipment. Culinary workshops took place at Fen Restaurant in Kalba and involved going out on fishing trips with local fishermen to source fresh seafood.

“At first people didn’t consider these kinds of courses as art but we counteracted that by giving them really positive experiences and putting them all in the context of the biennial,” says Al Mualla. “I believe through this programme we gained the interest of many new people who thought they wouldn’t be interested in art and hopefully instilled in them the confidence to visit art exhibitions and learn more about out programmes.”

The SB13 School closes on October 15, 2017. There are still a few more courses until then including a porcelain design course with Hind Al Qasimi. Check out my events page for more details.