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Shaping Old Sharjah: A Geospatial Analysis of Biennial Art Exhibitions in Old Sharjah from 2003–2019 - Right to Left @ DHSI 2021

Ammagui, Nada

This presentation was given at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute's Right to Left sub-conference in June 2021. Under the conference's aim of focusing on research and pedagogy related to languages which are written from right to left, my contribution explores the use of bilingual (Arabic and English) geospatial exhibition data as a vehicle for understanding the spatial expansion of a particular cultural scene, with specific attention to the Sharjah Biennial. More broadly, my presentation offers reflections on the challenges and opportunities for integrating locally-collected data—geospatial and otherwise—into global Digital Humanities circles to encourage more ground-up research on the Arabian Peninsula. 

This contribution was featured under the conference's "RtL and Forms of Distance" panel on June 8, 2021.

Conference abstract:

Scant data is collected about cultural institutions in Sharjah, UAE, especially for the purpose of conceptualizing its burgeoning art scene. While there is no paucity of papers about the “world-class” museums in nearby Abu Dhabi and their roles in shaping a national identity (Ajana 2015, McClellan 2012, Ouroussoff 2010), rarely do we see critics engage with the home-grown institutions that make up Sharjah’s cultural landscape. In my presentation, I argue that using geospatial artwork data from the Sharjah Biennial, a contemporary art exhibition held in Sharjah, offers a unique path to visualizing the rapid spatial growth of this exhibition and the impact of its spatiality on local residents. In my talk, I will retrace the history of the Sharjah Biennial, discuss the layout of the exhibitions using catalogue-generated maps, and consider the impact of governmental support for cultural and artistic institutions in Sharjah. In addition, I will reflect on my methods of data collection, challenges in working with bilingual exhibition catalogues, and the use of mapping tools to represent spaces in the Arabian Peninsula. The aim of my talk is to shed light on geospatial data collection in the UAE and to think about opportunities for the integration of RTL cultural data into global Digital Humanities circles.

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