Hassan Sharif, perhaps the most important artist ever to come out of the United Arab Emirates, whose work revolutionized conceptual art in the Middle East, and whose assemblages tackled modernization and overproduction, died in Dubai yesterday. He was 65. Alexander Gray Associates, which represents Sharif, confirmed the news today.
Sharif’s work had, until recently, largely gone unheard of in America and Europe. Within the last decade, however, Sharif’s work received greater exposure outside the Middle East. This was, in part, thanks to his United Arab Emirates pavilion in 2009 at the Venice Biennale—the first that his home country had ever had at the biennial.
In interviews, Sharif refused to be pigeonholed as a Middle Eastern artist. His most famous series, “Objects,” featured assemblages of consumer goods—sneakers, flip flops, cardboard boxes, ropes—that were strung together in a technique that the artist referred to as “weaving.” His use of weaving recalled local craft traditions in Dubai, but Sharif explained that there was nothing tying them to the Middle East specifically. (If anything, they recall Arman’s “Accumulations” in their look.) These works about the surplus of unneeded objects that resulted from modernization in the Gulf area memorably appeared in the New Museum’s 2014 show “Here and Elsewhere,” which refuted that there was a style that bound together all of Middle Eastern art.
Drawing influence from Dada, Neo-Dada, and Fluxus, which he came into contact with while studying at London’s Byam Shaw School of Art during the 1980s, Sharif often took as his subject the nature of accomplishments. Spoofing the language of academics and local politicians, Sharif’s early performances involved doing extraordinarily mundane tasks, such as tying rope to a rock, and proclaiming these to be real triumphs.
For Sharif, these were ways of penetrating systems—disrupting, parodying, and then opening them. In 2014, Sharif described his interest in systems by talking about his drawings. “I think of these markings as more of an engagement than an arrangement,” he said. “The series starts randomly. But then I give the marks a kind of order, by lining them in rows and then expanding the series by progressively adding a line or two to each mark. Eventually, I remove a line as the series progresses, until I make just a single line. The important thing is the process.”