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Global Art Forum Day 2 | Sharjah Tours

The eleventh edition of the Global Art Forum kicked off on Friday, under the theme Trading Places. This year, the forum focuses on the concept of trade that transcends the economic sense to include the trade of ideas that shape and reshape the world. Conceived by Shumon Basar as Commissioner, with Antonia Carver and Oscar Guardiola-Rivera as Co-directors, the forum was rife and robust with intellectual and artistic conversations about a topic that couldn’t have been more relevant in today’s open world of fast access to and exchange of knowledge.

Photo Courtesy: Photo Solutions

On Saturday, the forum held a full-day programme of commissioned walks around the city of Sharjah, considered to be the UAE’s most architecturally rich Emirate. Buttressed on a foundation of tradition, the buildings tell stories of the country’s early years of union. Three of the most compelling story-tellers guided over 100 participants through a city-wide tour of the city’s architecture, diaspora and hidden gems.

The day began with the first tour led by Sharjah-born, Iraqi writer and researcher Maryam Wissam Al Dabbagh at the Sharjah Islamic Souq, known to be one of the few havens of antique artifacts. Titled ‘ Baghdad in Sharjah,’ the founder of ‘Ila Al Amam Consulting Agency’, lead the tour through the lens of migration and the waves of Arab immigration that have shaped and continue to shift the landscape of the city, particularly the Iraqi diaspora after the 2003 US invasion which resulted in the mushrooming of Iraqi restaurants and antique shops in Sharjah. The tour burrowed out the Baghdad nestled in between Sharjah’s streets through the trade of Iraqi artifacts and culture.

Photo Courtesy: Photo Solutions

Dabbagh strolled through antique and art shops, chatted with the shop owners and antique collectors and translated astounding stories about love and war told by the Iraqi shop owners as the participants listened in. From 400-year-old Qurans to paintings of a Kurdish woman whose allure was irresistible to an American general, to which he could only express with an immaculately painted portrait, each shop owner showcased their most precious possession. In true Iraqi fashion, the tour continued to the renowned Iraqi bakery ‘Al Rabbat’, where everyone enjoyed a taste of Baghdad.

Photo Courtesy: Photo Solutions

The tour then continued with a bespoke sound journey through the city’s various neighbourhoods and streets with a ‘musical blocks’ tour led by Tulip Hazbar.

The modern-day ‘Silk Routes’ within Sharjah were set against a custom-made mixtape inspired by the culture-carriers who’ve inhabited and continue to inhabit these areas. Hazbar, the UAE-based designer and visual artist compiled what she dubbed the ‘Sharjah Mixtape.’ The bus-tour journeyed through the city’s streets from Arab and South Asian, to Persian and Turkish concentrated areas, each with a distinct charm and story narrated through musical notes. The bus promenaded through Sharjah’s fish market where listeners experienced the specific repertoire of vocal music sung by the pearl divers of Eastern Arabia’s coastal Gulf states, before heading to the bumpy roads of the botanical markets, where not only plants were preserved, but the stories of those who planted them.

Driving down the famed Corniche street, the tour eventually stopped to meet up with Emirati commentator, founder of Barjeel Art Foundation, and Sharjah-native Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, where he took visitors to a few of the city’s most iconic and cherished buildings. Through his extensive research and documentation of the architectural heritage of Sharjah, Sultan led the upbeat and insightful tour through the streets of Sharjah. The tour started off at Al Jubail area where a 70′s, shabby-chic, 7 story building designed by British architect Alistair McCowan stood tall. The tour of over 70 people then snaked through the city by foot to find themselves basking in the presence of the King Faisal Mosque, a 12,000 square meter expanse of marble and minarets. Sultan later walked the tour through streets lined with buildings which tangibly reflected a Levantine influence, most notably, the Bottle Building, Designed by Lebanese brothers Lucien and Bernard Casssia.

The tour moved to the Khalid Lagoon, named after the former ruler of Sharjah. The lagoon is 1,720,000 square hectares of water surface with a fountain at the center reaching a height of 100 meters. Reflected on the immense body of water is the beautiful shadowy image of Sharjah Islamic Souq. Designed by Michael Lyell Associates, the building is divided into two main sections connected through two bridges. One overlooking the Khaled Lagoon and the other, king Faisal street. The outside walls of the market are fitted with blue tiles, giving the structure its popular name ‘Blue Souq.’

Sultan later concluded the tour at the iconic Garden City housing project, a series of low-rise buildings built in 1977, designed for a lifestyle of convenience and tranquility, where he asked and answered questions about architecture and Sharjah, before concluding the tour with a piece of advice for all, “We all have a role to play in preserving the architecture of the UAE.”
For more information on the March programme of the Global Art Forum visit: https://www.artdubai.ae/global-art-forum-11/

Art Dubai partners with the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority and Dubai Design District to present the Global Art Forum.

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