Hoor Al Qasimi
For transforming the arts across the Middle East and beyond
In 2003, when artist Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi was appointed director of the Sharjah Biennial, she was only 22 years old, the youngest member on the team, and the sole woman. But already she had a big vision.
A freshly minted graduate of the prestigious Slade School of Fine Art in London, Al Qasimi had recently returned from Documenta — a massive art fair held in Kassel, Germany every five years. Curated by Okwui Enwezor, the 2002 exhibition focused on themes of migration, urbanization, and post-colonial experience, drawing artists from around the world.
"I came away so inspired," she recalls. "It was life-changing for me. At the same time, it got me questioning the manner in which the Sharjah Biennial was being presented."
Back home in the United Arab Emirates, the Sharjah Biennial team was less than thrilled. When Al Qasimi pushed for new, provocative art from across the globe, half the old guard quit. And so with her typical perseverance and patience, she pushed ahead, working 20-hour days to transform the event into an internationally acclaimed platform for contemporary artists, curators, and cultural producers.
Today, Al Qasimi is a leading figure in the international art world. She is founder, president, and director of the Sharjah Art Foundation, an arts institution presenting a growing lineup of programs year-round and the Biennial's governing body; as well as president of The Africa Institute and president of the International Biennial Association (IBA). She serves on the board of directors of the Sharjah Architecture Triennial, debuting November 2019, and will curate the second edition of the Lahore Biennial in 2020.
Through it all, Al Qasimi has worked tirelessly to promote greater cultural understanding and exchange between artists, curators, cultural producers, and the public. She has given artists a platform that ranges across the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, and beyond, while working to bring international artworks and artists to residents of the UAE. "It is our mission to give artists a platform in Sharjah,” she says. “And it is gratifying to now see other institutions, including western ones, following our example and giving long overdue attention to these artists."