Siddhartha Mitter

  • Carrie Mae Weems, The In Between (detail), 2022–23, mixed media. Installation view, Calligraphy Square, Sharjah, 2023. Photo: Haupt & Binder.


    AT THE DAWN OF THE CENTURY, no special sign presaged Sharjah’s rise to its present status as an artistic incubator and arguably today’s most influential hub of research and creation focused on what is now called the Global South. Yes, its ruler, Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, launched the Sharjah Biennial in 1993. But in its early editions, the exhibition was relatively staid, presenting neo-modernist art from Arab and Muslim countries on the national-pavilion model. Compared with glitzy Dubai, the city of Sharjah, capital of the eponymous emirate, was (and remains) low-rise and conservative

  • diary January 22, 2020


    “THIS IS THE BIGGEST PARTY IN AFRICA, as far as photography is concerned.” The Nigerian photographer and curator Uche James Iroha was holding court in the airy ground-floor exhibition hall of the Palais de la Culture Amadou Hampaté Ba, a spacious, gently decrepit multiarts complex and one of the main venues of Rencontres de Bamako. An established crossroads for art and ideas in Africa, the respected photo biennial is now holding its twelfth edition, which runs through the end of the month and marks twenty-five years since its founding in Mali’s capital.

    That’s an impressive run, not least because


    VISITORS TO THE 2017 WHITNEY BIENNIAL will remember the banners. Roughly five feet tall by four feet wide, they hung from the ceiling in the museum lobby and the exhibition’s main gallery. Each presented, on one side, a garish image such as a bird bleeding in the sky, or a human eye pierced by a pencil. On the other side appeared a (mostly) confrontational text: MY PATHOLOGY IS YOUR PROFIT; I’M SO BLACK THAT I BLIND YOU; I HAVE NOTHING LEFT. The tough words contrasted with the lush beauty of these objects—the warm colors painted on rich fabric, the sequins and fringes, the phrases embroidered

  • View of Raphael Barontini's Idole déesse, 2017. Photo: Biennale Internationale de Casablanca.
    diary December 20, 2018

    On the Brink

    THE PLAN FOR THE FOURTH EDITION OF THE BIENNALE INTERNATIONALE DE CASABLANCA, held from late October to early December, was to raise the profile of the event in a manner befitting the economic and cultural significance of Morocco’s biggest city. In prior editions, initiated by the Moroccan photographer Mostafa Romli and run through a foundation called Maroc Premium, the biennial wasn’t really achieving that. Its quality was middling; it had neither the means nor the glitz to rival the Marrakech Biennial, which was founded in 2004 by the British entrepreneur Vanessa Branson. This year, however,


    “I WANT EVERYONE in Congress to visit here,” John Lewis told the audience gathered on a mild Saturday in February to celebrate the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum—the new institution in Jackson that tells, in considerable detail, the history of racial oppression and resistance in this state, a bedrock of the freedom struggle.

    Two months earlier, the museum’s official inauguration had come under a pall when Donald Trump decided to show up, having been invited by Mississippi’s Republican governor, Phil Bryant. Lewis, the beloved civil rights hero and congressman from Georgia, had refused to attend

  • Crowd outside the Ancien Palais de Justice during Dak'Art. Photo: Oumy Diaw.
    diary May 29, 2018

    Summit in Senegal

    THE RAP ON SOME BIENNIALS is that they don’t engage enough with the city that hosts them. There was no such problem at Dak’Art 2018, the thirteenth edition of Africa’s oldest and most prominent biennial. Jam-packed into one month—May 3rd to June 2nd—the thing was gargantuan, spreading across Senegal’s capital and beyond. Dakar’s old downtown, with its mix of colonial and postindependence buildings, was home to the main exhibition, organized by the Cameroonian scholar Simon Njami, who also directed the 2016 edition. Five exhibitions by guest curators, plus several country-focused shows (Egypt,

  • “Bodys Isek Kingelez: City Dreams”

    The idiosyncratic sculptor Bodys Isek Kingelez, who died in 2015, made detailed miniatures of urban structures—first buildings, and later entire cityscapes—inspired partly by Kinshasa and other cities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and partly by his own fertile imagination of more elegant, efficacious, and progressive ways of living. The work is less Afrofuturism than documentation of an alternative present, tracking the period when the country was called Zaire, under the kleptocratic dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, and its convulsive