August 31, 2018 - Sharjah Art Foundation - “5-plus-1: Rethinking Abstraction”
August 31, 2018

Sharjah Art Foundation

Frank Bowling, South America Squared, 1967. Acrylic on canvas, 243 x 274 cm. Rennie Collection, Vancouver. © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017.


“5-plus-1: Rethinking Abstraction”
A symposium organised in conjunction with the exhibition Frank Bowling: Mappa Mundi 
September 30, 2018
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“5-plus-1: Rethinking Abstraction”
A symposium organised in conjunction with the exhibition Frank Bowling: Mappa Mundi 
September 30, 2018
Facebook / Instagram / Twitter

Symposium: September 30, 10am–6pm
Africa Hall,
Post Office Roundabout
Opposite Old Emiri Diwan
Sharjah, UAE

Exhibition opening: September 29, 6pm
Sharjah Art Foundation,
Al Mureijah Square
Sharjah, UAE


Sharjah Art Foundation presents the international symposium “5-plus-1: Rethinking Abstraction” to celebrate the opening of Frank Bowling: Mappa Mundi at Sharjah Art Foundation.

Symposium organisers are Okwui Enwezor (curator, critic, and former director of Haus der Kunst), Hoor Al Qasimi (President and Director, Sharjah Art Foundation) and Salah M. Hassan (Goldwin Smith Professor and Director, Institute for Comparative Modernities (ICM), Cornell University).

Participants include Frank Bowling (artist), Melvin Edwards (artist), Salah M. Hassan, Kellie Jones (Professor in Art History and Archaeology and Faculty Fellow, Institute for Research in African American Studies, Columbia University), Courtney J. Martin (Deputy Director and Chief Curator, Dia Art Foundation), Hoor Al Qasimi, Gilane Tawadros (Chief Executive, DACS and Vice Chair, Stuart Hall Foundation), Krista Thompson (Mary Jane Crowe Chair in Art History, Northwestern University) and Zoe Whitley (Curator, International Art, Tate Modern). For the symposium schedule, please click here.

“5-plus-1: Rethinking Abstraction” will focus on the implications of the original 5-plus-1 exhibition, curated by Frank Bowling in 1969, making reference to the five artists who joined him in the exhibition: sculptors Mel Edwards and Daniel Johnson and painters Al Loving, Jack Whitten and William T. Williams. Bowling, the “plus-1,” questioned the role of art in society and the function of abstraction.

In his career of six decades, Bowling’s engagement with history, migration, memory and representation has continuously expanded the conception of what painting can be and for whom it is created. When he turned to activism in 1967, Bowling shifted away from the speculative realism of the figure, which underpinned his earlier work, and imagined a sensorial and visceral experience of painting, not only encompassing lived experience, but also invoking memory, absence, loss and exile. Revisiting the 5-plus-1 exhibition in this symposium becomes particularly significant in light of the rising interest in abstraction today as demonstrated by recent retrospectives and other exhibitions of work by abstract artists of African descent such as Sam Gilliam, Jack Whitten, Mel Edwards and Alma Thomas, among others. To contribute to this ongoing conversation, this symposium brings some of the major figures in Bowling’s 1969 exhibition together with a younger generation of scholars, artists and art critics to provide a platform for documentation and critical investigation of such a paramount period.

Historically, the relationship between black artists who engaged with abstraction as a genre of painting or sculpture and those who preferred figuration as a mode of expression has been, at best, contentious. Figuration was preferred during the Black Arts Movement as a strong expression of the experience of racism and the struggle for justice and equality, while abstraction was viewed as less expressive of those realities and catering to Euro-American tastes. Yet, despite the dominance of figurative art, many black artists who were involved in the struggle and committed to activism did engage with abstraction in different degrees. Thus, the symposium will provide an opportunity for participants to focus on the historical tensions between abstraction and figuration in African Diaspora/black art and the debates around the issue.

One facet of scholarship that remains scarce is work on important black women artists, such as Alma Thomas, Betty Blayton and Mildred Thompson, who contributed to the practice of and discussions surrounding abstraction. The symposium will enable a critical investigation of abstraction in light of its gender dynamics from both historical and contemporary perspectives.

For more information and to register to attend, click here.

Frank Bowling: Mappa Mundi (September 29, 2018–January 12, 2019)
Taking place at Africa Hall, “5-plus-1: Rethinking Abstraction” will coincide with the exhibition Frank Bowling: Mappa Mundi at Sharjah Art Foundation, which presents an overview of major developments in Bowling’s practice across a six-decade career. The exhibition was inaugurated earlier this year at Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany and travelled to the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), Dublin, Ireland before its Sharjah debut.

Frank Bowling: Mappa Mundi is organised by Haus der Kunst, Munich in collaboration with the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), Dublin and Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah. The exhibition is curated by Okwui Enwezor with Anna Schneider at Haus der Kunst, Munich. The Sharjah presentation is co-curated by Hoor Al Qasimi and Okwui Enwezor with Anna Schneider.

Opening on September 29, this exhibition joins an array of solo and group exhibitions on Sharjah Art Foundation’s autumn roster, including Ala Younis: Steps Toward the Impossible, March Project 2018 and a selection of works from previous editions of the foundation’s Production Programme.

Africa Hall
Opening on September 25, Sharjah’s new Africa Hall will serve as a venue for conferences, symposia, lectures, film screenings and stage plays related to activities of the Africa Institute and as a meeting place for the larger community of Sharjah and the UAE. The Africa Institute will be a globally oriented institution for humanities and social science research, documentation, study and teaching about Africa and its diaspora.

The new Africa Hall exists alongside a future building for the Africa Institute which will be designed by Sir David Adjaye. Being rebuilt on the same site as Sharjah’s original Africa Hall, inaugurated in 1976, the complex is named in reference to the first cultural and political event it hosted: the Arab-African Symposium.

The opening programme for Africa Hall (September 25–30, 2018) will include performances by Zied Zouari, Youssou N’Dour and The Fathy Salama Orchestra, Youssou N’Dour and Le Super Etoile de Dakar, Oumou Sangare, Mulatu Astatke, Lisa Simone, DJ Peter Adjaye and Somi as well as a screening of the film Opera of the World (2017), directed by Manthia Diawara.

Media contacts
Sharjah Art Foundation: Alyazeyah Al Reyaysa
T +971(0)65444113/

Resnicow and Associates: Barbara Escobar / Stephanie Yeo / Sarah Morris
T +1 212 671 5174 / 161 / 165 / /

Sharjah Art Foundation
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