Monday, April 25, 2011

Sharjah Biennial

Friday prayers, Pen & ink, A5 sketchbook. ©Sue Pownall 2011
Reminded that Sharjah's Art Biennial was on and inspired to go by Omar Jaramillo's post Sharjah on his fabulous blog Omar Paint I booked a flight to UAE. I reached my hotel room as Friday prayers were taking place in the mosque opposite and I was amazed at how many people were listening to the cleric: he must be very good. Check out the photo below, which shows people stretched across the road in order to be at that particular mosque.
Click to enlarge and see cars driving around the Sharjah worshippers.
Initial lines of mosque
I grabbed my sketchbook for my 2nd sketch of the day as I wanted to capture the masses, even though I was looking down on them from the 14th floor. The small pic right shows how little of the mosque I drew in initially, hence the squiffy perspective when I tried to complete it later, as I concentrated on the rows of people and outlining parked cars. I took a few photos as I knew I did not have long to capture the scene, but managed to finish the people before prayers ended. I then drew the rest of the mosque. I intended to add watercolour later, but changed rooms due to the noisy (young children) in the adjoining room. I'm happy with it without the colour.

In true urban sketchers fashion, my first sketch of the day had been at Doha airport as I waited for my flight in Coffee Beanery. I was attracted to a family sitting across from me. It was only as I was sketching the lady on the right, as the last of the figures in the group, that I realised that she had a child asleep on her lap. Sketching really does allow us to see the world and live in it rather than just move through it oblivious to what is going on around us. After the family, a Qatari guy sat down with his OJ and newspaper, so I just had to sketch him too.
Coffee Beanery, Doha Airport ©Sue Pownall 2011
Being Friday, I had a rest after the mosque sketch and waited for the Sharjah museums to open at 4pm before I could I head out to explore. Sharjah is a very visitor-friendly city being small and easy to walk around, although the heat makes it difficult (Saturday morning was 36°c at 10am). Gaining a great guidebook to the Biennial at Sharjah Art Museum I wandered around a lot of the 10 Biennial sites absorbing the art. I am not a great fan of video installations, possibly because I am too impatient to watch for long, however throughout the sites were Judith Barry's Cairo stories, which were very watchable narratives. In the Sharjah Art museum, I was pleased to see that the Orientalist collection had not been removed for the event and got to see the wonderful lithographs of David Roberts and John Keppie's watercolours among others.

Arriving at the Heritage area, I was pleased but surprised to see the Heritage Days event (similar to the Muscat Festival) was still on. All posters and flags said it finished on the 18th and as it was the 22nd I expected it to be over. I tried to draw some of the people, but I gathered crowds watching me, as 1 of only 4 non-locals there perform - maybe I was on the program? When some musicians and dancers started to perform I abandoned the sketch and drew them instead, again with a vast crowd of onlookers. From the Heritage Days, I thought it was time to head back to the hotel and walked along the Corniche, which was quite pretty if you ignored the port on the other side of the creek, but there was a strong oil smell, so I crossed back into the city to wander through the streets. I got back to the hotel just before 8pm tired from the unaccustomed walking, pleased with my sketches and sated from the glut of art and culture.
Emirati musicians and dancers. Pen & ink, A5 sketchbook. ©Sue Pownall 2011
The following morning, I headed back out after a nice buffet breakfast to find the Calligraphy museum. I walked miles out of my way and was aided by a Yemeni young man to the museum. Unfortunately, unlike the Orientalists, all calligraphy had been removed for the duration of the Bieannial. I found an interesting old school, now a museum, and an old house (Bait Al Naboodah), which had belonged to a pearl merchant, to visit, and I also saw some more of the Biennial and the souqs. On setting out in the morning, I had intended to do some watercolours however, as mentioned above, it was too hot to stop for long even in the shade and I did not do any quick pen sketches either. I did take quite a few photos though, but will save them for another post.