Sharjah Biennial 15, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
Thinking Historically in the Present
Curated by Hoor Al Qasimi
In the mountains of the moon, the discovery of gold and the desire for power opens the portal to the Dar Al Harb. May we guide against our greed lest it consume us all. —Umar Rashid
Umar Rashid makes paintings, drawings, and sculptures that chronicle the grand historical fiction of the Frenglish Empire that he has been developing for over seventeen years. Each work represents a frozen moment from this parallel world that often recalls our own fraught histories—both canonized and marginalized—with familiar signifiers and iconographies that channel the visual lexicons of hip hop, ancient and modern pop culture, gang and prison life, and revolutionary movements throughout time.
Rashid's presentation for Sharjah Biennial 15: Thinking Historically in the Present has roots in the artist’s first solo museum exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, CO in 2012. Rashid writes, "In my reimagined universe spanning from 1658 CE to 1880 CE, we find ourselves back in the area now known as Denver, Colorado USA in 1794. During this time, the Spanish Empire in North America and their various indigenous allies and porters have come into conflict with the Arapaho Nation (Hinono'eiteen) and the southern band of the Cheyenne peoples (Heévâhetaneo'o, meaning "Roped People") whilst looking for the Seven Cities of Gold. Some gold is found and a mine and a fort are constructed, although lightly defended by the Spanish garrison. The Frenglish Empire (a combination of France and England) is engaged in a frontier war for dominance over the interior of the continent. Neither side truly cares about holding this area, as the Spanish are merely searching for gold to prop up their sprawling empire while the Frenglish ambition is to ensure that they hold preeminence wherever they are. The various Frenglish frontiersmen make a deal with the Hinono'eiteen and the Heévâhetaneo'o to assist them in eliminating the Spanish garrison in exchange for a pledge of fealty. The agreement is confirmed and all three armies proceed to decimate the Spanish forces. The Frenglish and their allies are known as wolves whilst the Spanish and their allies are regarded as dragons. Eventually however, whether it’s the desire of gold, power, or both, subjugation of the indigenous and the denial of their sovereignty ultimately leads to conflict, and thus the action invites the world of war. This is seen since time began and is seen today. I am a storyteller of the historical other, but in all the worlds this holds true. My hope is that people view my illustrative narrative as I do: a bridge to the past, present, and future.”
About Sharjah Biennial
Conceived by the late Okwui Enwezor and curated by Hoor Al Qasimi, Director of Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah Biennial 15: Thinking Historically in the Present reflects on Enwezor’s visionary work, which transformed contemporary art and established an ambitious intellectual project that has influenced the evolution of institutions and biennials around the world. Al Qasimi interprets and re-envisions the titular proposal by the late thinker to critically center the past within the contemporary moment. Sharjah Biennial 15 will position Sharjah’s own lived past within the transcultural universe of thought furthered by over 300 works by over 150 artists and collectives, which will be installed in 5 cities and towns across the emirate.