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Final exhibition by Okwui Enwezor will open in 2021 in Middle East
Okwui Enwezor. Photo: Andreas Gebert, 2011.

by Jason Farago

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE ).- When renowned Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor died in Munich in March at age 55, he left behind substantial preparatory materials for a future exhibition.

That final show will soon be realized, as the 15th edition of the Sharjah Biennial, perhaps the most prestigious such exhibition in the Middle East.

The biennial, titled “Thinking Historically in the Present,” will open in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, in March 2021. The biennial will include 30 permanent commissions by 30 artists worldwide, as well as a historical presentation called “Postcolonial” — a sequel to “Postwar,” his massive exhibition of global art after World War II, which took place at the Haus der Kunst in Munich in 2017.

Enwezor was director of the Haus der Kunst from 2011 to 2018. (His final show there, a retrospective of Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui, ran until July and became the museum’s best-attended show in 10 years.) His most acclaimed exhibitions were biennials, above all the 2002 edition of Documenta, whose global approach to contemporary art influenced a generation of artists and curators.

“Okwui’s Documenta inspired me,” said curator Hoor al-Qasimi, who serves as president and director of Sharjah Art Foundation. “It completely changed my life, and the course of my career.”

She approached Enwezor in the summer of 2018, as he was departing the Haus der Kunst, where he and the governing board traded accusations of mismanagement and underfunding. Enwezor drew up plans for the show in Sharjah, and his conversations with al-Qasimi continued into the last weeks of his life, when Enwezor was hospitalized.

Enwezor entrusted the execution of this last show to her and a working group of his frequent collaborators. They include Nigerian art historian Chika Okeke-Agulu, German curator Ute Meta Bauer, Egyptian curator Tarek Abou El Fetouh and Sudanese scholar and writer Salah M. Hassan.

Among Enwezor’s convictions, as a curator of contemporary art, was that “you can’t really look at the future without looking at the past and the present,” said al-Qasimi. “Everybody’s looking back at art history, trying to rewrite the narrative of what we’ve been told. I think that’s why a lot of people have been inspired by ‘Postwar,’ and I hope that the second part, ‘Postcolonial,’ will also do that.”

© 2019 The New York Times Company

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