This exhibition, held at the Patinoire Royale, pays tribute to his unconventional and multidisciplinary artistic practice, which he dedicated his last energies to. Born in Iran in 1951, Sharif lived and worked in Dubai where he became a pioneer of Conceptual art in the Gulf and remains a key figure of the Middle Eastern art scene today. Playful and radical throughout his artistic career, a theorist, writer and educator in his own right, Sharif continued to support and inspire fellow artists.
This exhibition renders an overview of the artist’s eclectic work offering a reflection on Sharif’s array of explorations, from his early cartoons and performances to his recent paintings, drawings, sculptures and installations. The works included in the show continue his career-long investigation on where art can be found, what art is for, what our expectations are of it and how those limits can be usurped.
During his time in London (1979–84) where he studied at the Byam Shaw School of Art (now part of Central Saint Martin), Sharif was introduced to the non-elitism intermedia strategies of Fluxus as well as the chance and order theories of British Constructivism, which he was very quick to adopt in his experimentations, drawings and a number of performances.
He became known for his performances where he engaged in simple gestures, from jumping in the desert, walking, digging and standing, to pulling ropes between two rocks, Sharif deconstructs familiar meanings and plays with absurdness. The photographic documentation of these actions show us their simplicity and depict everyday activities that appear to be meaningless and out of place. It is the meaninglessness of these performances and their artist-centred practice that reveal the very strong Fluxus influences.
Using complex mathematical calculations based on randomly picked numbers and by allowing un-predictability to take over the creation process, he constructed drawings referred to as ‘Semi-Systems’, which he continued to work on for the rest of his life. Ultimately, the artist utilises chance to dictate the final outcome. Sharif concentrated on a multiplicity of facets of this “chance”, ultimately proving its paradoxical limitations.
Central to the artist’s practice are his ‘Objects’, which he started creating in the 1980s using found idustrial materials or mass-produced items purchased in markets and stores around the United Arab Emirates. By cutting, bending, grouping, and braiding these cultural artefacts together, Sharif deprives them of their functionality to enhance their aesthetic and political significance.
Probably the most precise outline of these core concerns can be found in Sharif’s 2006 essay ‘Weaving’. He writes about a “vulgar market mentality that flooded shops with consumer products” in his lifetime, a “consumer-society tsunami” that caused an acute upheaval in the so-called ‘developing’ world. His response, and the underlying purpose of his art, as he explains in Weaving, has been acts of ‘redundant repetition’: “I would continuously engage myself in boring, recurring and endless activities”. ‘Weaving’, in its most rudimentary form of tying and bundling, without “strenuous physical activity nor unique skill”, became his gesture.
Sourcing cast-off materials and readymade goods (plastic pegs and cheap sandals) from shops in Dubai, Sharif wove these accumulated objects together into freestanding heaps and wall sculptures (2009–16). Such cheap objects were an affront to the idea that art had to be an inherently valuable thing (a line of thinking he encountered when he first began exhibiting in the early 1980s in the UAE).