GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Binary Conception and Constructed Identity: the ‘Heart of Sharjah’ in context
Paper Proposal Text :

The framework of knowledge production in the UAE is based on a binary conception of modernity versus heritage. This conception not only obscured social realities in a condensed national history but also contributed to the construction and perpetuation of these realities. This paper focuses on the Heart of Sharjah area, (formerly known as the Arts Area and Heritage Area) and the Sharjah Biennial as two key initiatives that have shaped Sharjah material culture and its public social realm. The paper aims to investigate the socio-political and socio-cultural forces/factors that have shaped the current cultural framework and its implications, not only on the area, but also the emirate by: mapping events, shifts, increments or transformations; and mapping urban spaces as zoning tools, fields for cultural appropriation and activated nodes.

The “Modern versus Heritage” binary conception, as identified by Claire Beaugrand et al.[1], perpetuates the seductive representation of Said’s 19th century imaginary Orient and the myth of the solely positive effect of Modernity by the colonizing power as well as the more subversive forces of soft post-colonialism. This conception also influences policy makers and audiences leading them to project idealized and pseudo-historicist urban visions on to cities while in parallel allowing for unchecked commercial architecture sprawl. This is further problematized when this external exoticization of culture and society results in an internal identity-masking complex, which shifts socio-political realities and mutes the plurality of positions and voices on heritage and culture.

Since UAE gained its independence, Sharjah Biennial and Sharjah Art and Heritage Area have undergone noticeable shifts and transformations, which have shaped and reshaped the Sharjah cultural identity. This paper will elaborate on and overlap an institutional timeline and an urban timeline. These tools are intended to: examine key dates that signify shifts and/or incremental transformations in the history of the Sharjah Biennial / Heart of Sharjah; identify the political institutions and agents that have exerted an influence on the institution/urban fragment through complex and interrelated networks; and correlate the dates of institutional shifts/urban transformations to major UAE socio-cultural developments.
How can researchers, architects and cultural decision-makers concentrate on processes that blur and challenge the boundaries of the simple analytical categories of heritage and Modernity? What are the causal relationships or the factors that contributed to the evolution of a particular urban fragment? What are the implications on the urban space of the relation between the production of space, the consumption of space and investment decisions? By plotting a space/time map of the Heart of Sharjah, this paper intends to lead to a better understanding of the unique cultural identity of Sharjah and the United Arab Emirates. It is anticipated to provide a historic account of the conditions that allowed for the emergence and evolution of the Arts and Culture sector. The strategy holds the potential to offer investigative tools that are yet to be documented and analyzed in a rapidly developing but nascent field of research and cultural representation studies.

Keywords: Identity, Sharjah, Sharjah Biennial, Heart of Sharjah, culture, art, heritage, modernity


[1] Claire, Beaugrand, Le Renard Amélie, and Stadnicki Roman. "New Texts Out Now: Claire Beaugrand, Amélie Le Renard, Roman Stadnicki, Villes et dynamiques urbaines en péninsule Arabique / Cities and Urban Dynamics in the Arabian Peninsula." Jadaliyya, January 22, 2014.élie-le-renar (accessed February 08, 2014).