We set out to Focal Point on Friday evening eager to get our glances and grab some exciting stuff from the various curated tables set forth by Sharjah Art Foundation's annual art book fair. This year it was at Bait Obaid Al Shamsi Art Square. a 174-year old heritage site located in the heart of the city, within the Al Shuwaiheen Arts Area and opposite Sharjah port. Originally built in 1845 and renovated in the 1990s and then again in 2017, the former residence hosts artist studios, exhibition spaces, SAF exhibitions and Sharjah Biennials.
It was a pleasant evening, the winter slowly setting in except for the weekend traffic which took us one and a half hours to reach the almost specific point when our GPS unexpectedly took the liberty and took us on a bylane tour! Finally, we had to seek human intervention and got to the book fair. Since there wasn't a parking space my daughter and I almost flung ourselves out of the car as cars were lining up behind but thanks to the timely signal.
When we stepped in, the sun had begun to set leaving a golden glow through the canvas roofs and the faint shadows dancing against the walls and the tables, the hip music, the colorful flags, the bustling crowd had a carnival effect on us. We instantly loved the setting, the ambience!
This second edition of Focal Point had over 150 independent publishers and artists presented across 55 booths and curated tables. Over three days from 14th to 16th, the visitors, am sure, must have discovered art books, art projects and journals, catalogues and monographs, comic stips, zines and booklets, picture books, bookmarks, pins, stickers and tote bags. The focus this year was on zines and comics. Focal Point was divided across five sections - Edit, Independent, UAE, SAF Publications and Magazines. Each one had a colour code for easy identification of its location in the brochure. SAF/Edit is the Sharjah Art Foundation's curated presentation of printed matter from across the world with a focus on the UAE and MENASA region. They had publishers like Arab Comics, Art 21, Asia Art Archive, Fantagraphics, Illusion Comics, Jabal Amman Publishers, Khoj, Minaa Zine, etc. Independent publishers included one of our favourites, Tara Books among others like Blaft Publishers, Africa Institute, Perimeter Books, Afterall, Tosh Fesh, Lendroit editions, Tok Tok Magazine, Lars Muller Publishers, Sharjah Architecture Triennial, etc. UAE publications included catalogues, zines, etc. from art institutions and galleries from across UAE like 1X1 Gallery, Art Jameel, Emirates Fine Arts Society, Green Art Gallery, Ishara Art Foundation, Louvre Abu Dhabi, Maraya Art Centre, Sharjah Museums, Tashkeel, The Third Line. etc. Magazines like Canvas, Selections and Tribe were present too.
Visitors also had the opportunity to participate in the workshops organized by SAF for kids and adults that were free but needed registration. They had workshops like zine-making, freehand drawing, bookmark making, How to draw manga and pen and ink illustrations.
We got talking to representatives of many of the curated tables who were eager to explain it all and it was wonderful to get to know them and what they did. I did buy a couple of lovely pieces too. My daughter was particularly in love with the "Tamil Pulp Fiction" tote by Blaft Publishers. Dhwani, a graphic designer with Tara Publishers was lovely and lively talking in detail about each piece and she exuded the energy and love that she so cherished for each one of those works. I met a couple of awesome artists, one of whom I know for the last couple of years, whose comic book I ended up buying as it did have some awesome comic strips and some favourite people in it.
We had been there on Friday and so we could hear the band, Sways N Edges, playing which really added to the ambience. Visitors on 16th would've heard Adiga; both local bands. After all the book hunting if the visitors happened to feel hungry or wanted to grab a snack the food and beverage vendors were at hand too.
It was a beautiful evening well-spent and we did return home without much hassle, heartily. It's actually wonderful to see Sharjah Art Foundation coming up with so many initiatives and projects as part of bringing in the community and the kind of awareness that they are creating not only among artists of the region but also among the masses. This needs to be emulated! Kudos to the whole team and the participants!
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