Yuko Hasegawa has been selected to curate the 11th Sharjah Biennial, scheduled to open in March 2013. Since 2006 she has been chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, and prior to that was chief curator and founding artistic director of the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa (1999–2006).
With Sharjah Art Foundation president and biennial founder Sheikha Hoor Al-Qasimi, the daughter of ruler Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammad al-Qasimi, Hasegawa decided upon the theme “Decentralizing the West,” and will select works that reassess the “Western-centrism of knowledge in modern times,” according to the press release.
Hasegawa intends to include artists but also architects, designers, poets and other creative individuals, a mix of disciplines that reflects her range of curatorial experience. She was artistic advisor of the 12th Venice Architectural Biennale (2010) and co-curator of the 2006 Seoul International Media Art Biennale. In addition she helped organize the São Paulo Biennale (2010), the Shanghai Biennale (2002) and served as commissioner of the Japanese Pavilion at the 2003 Venice Biennale.
Hasegawa will be organizing the next Sharjah Biennial in the shadow of a censorship scandal that led to the Apr. 6 firing of artistic director Jack Persekian by Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammad al-Qasimi. Persekian had held that post since 2005, when he was brought on board by Sheikha Hoor. His inclusion of an outdoor installation by Algerian artist Mustapha Benfodil was pulled from the Sharjah Biennial last spring. The work involved headless mannequins in soccer uniforms, graffiti and text relating to the rape of women during the Algerian civil war during the 1990s.
In an e-mail to A.i.A., Sheikah Hoor, who has assumed Persekian’s day-to-day duties, explained that “one of the shortcomings of the last Biennial is that many of the projects simply were not reviewed by the artistic director, which he acknowledged.” In order to avoid a repeat offense, she said she “will be closely working with the curator and reviewing the proposed projects as they become realised . . . particularly those works that are presented in the public realm, as opposed to within the museum.”
Speaking by phone from Tokyo, Hasegawa emphasized the importance of showing respect for the local culture. As artistic director of the 2001 Istanbul Biennale, which opened in late September, after the attacks of 9/11, she explained how she had to navigate through some touchy subjects in “a complicated culture.” Before the opening, there was concern that works containing images of airplanes, for example, would be too provocative. The open dialogue with biennial organizers, she said, prevented the removal of works.
“Decentralizing the West” is a clever way for Hasegawa, who describes Sharjah as “a place of hospitality and discipline,” to negotiate the differences and difficulties of contemporary art in what is considered the most religiously and politically conservative emirate.