Influential Emirati artist Hassan Sharif’s solo show at Mathaf is a journey of rediscovery

Despite being considered the father of conceptual art in the Gulf region, Hassan Sharif has on many occasions affirmed that his practice is neither minimalist nor conceptual and proceeded instead to define it as “an adventure [ during the course of which] you might fall down. But try not to break a leg, ” he continued, “because you’ll want to go further.”

With that in mind, the efforts to grasp philosophical ruminations that may have preceded Sharif’s creation of floor installations, drawings and personal archives from the mid-1980s currently on view at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, dissipate. What remains is a focus on the artist’s process and the self-imposed methodologies that have defined his practice, steering him away from his contemporary peers and ultimately influencing several generations of Emirati artists.

Curated by Laura Barlow, Sharif’s first museum solo Objects and Files falls under the umbrella of the FOCUS series — an ongoing programme of exhibitions from the museum’s permanent collection that aims at indulging audiences in new readings of the region’s artistic innovators through various curatorial presentations.

Visual feasts from afar with perfectly harmonised hues and intriguing sculptural arrangements, Sharif’s abstract installations tell their stories better from close up, which is when the meaning borne by both his method and media can be grasped fully. Elementary materials such as stones, rags and paper, held together with glue or wires, manifest Sharif’s insistence on simplicity in an artistic expression that integrates both individual and historical roots.

A floor installation consisting of small stacks of brown, beige, black and blush pink cardboard papers held by wires, Cardboard and Wire (1986) translates the artist’s appreciation for the natural elements that constitute paper, while its layout in abundant piles opens a door to considerations about the use, or the overuse, of paper in our industrialised era.

Consumerism, along with other societal ills witnessed both regionally and globally, is a topic that threads throughout Sharif’s practice. The painstaking system of creation by repetition he follows, on the other hand, leads to fortuitous births of uniqueness: as he ties, wraps and stacks his objects countless times, each element acquires its own identity through minor imperfections while perfectly blending in into a whole. In this sense, the visual study of Sharif’s works becomes a journey of rediscovery during which our value system undergoes a stimulating update.

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Creative Issue #36, page 42.