The Biennial fair in Sharjah, cultural capital of the United Arab Emirates, has run aground. Director Jack Persekian, a gallerist with a hybrid American-Armenian-Palestinian background, was fired last week. The abrupt rupture shook down over an installation by Algerian artist Mustapha Benfodil. “It Has No Importance,” shown here, presented 23 headless mannequins in a courtyard marked by Arabic graffiti of sexually explicit language and religious language. The publicly displayed incited public complaints and consternation, resulting in an order for Persekian’s firing directly from Sheikh Mustapha bin Mohammed, who rules the Emirate. The Sharjah Art Foundation, which sponsors the biennial, stated that Benfodil’s installation was taken down “because leaving it on view was too risky from a legal and cultural standpoint.”
The Sharjah Biennial presents collaborative and individual works from artists and galleries active in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. The Biennial and its accompanying “March Meeting” conference are generally seen sophisticated indicators of the progressive interest in and practice of contemporary art in the Arab world.