Shimabuku's Boat Trip

Artist: Shimabuku
Location: Port Khalid, Sharjah, UAE
Year: 2014
Researcher: Nahla Al Tabbaa

Shimabuku's practice combines humor and surprises with unlikely social encounters in urban frameworks, whereby audiences are very subtly immersed in his gestures, interpreting and quietly taking away the experience. Shimabuku's practice is described as 'Taking on the role of a Candide-like figure, he travels the world, interacts with strangers, and converses with nature, instigating moments of poetry, humor, and wonderment. Each of his works tells the story of an improbable encounter across borders, species, and states of being.'

Upon visiting Sharjah in preparation for Sharjah Biennial 11, he was struck by the heterogeneity of the city’s experiences and cultures. The juxtapositions of the city inspired him to create an immersive audience participatory experience, in a forum that both celebrated the frenetic coming together of these juxtapositions, and highlighted the humour in them.

The journey to Port Khalid, the other side of Sharjah’s creek from the main city, is best experienced on a traditional abra (water taxi) for as little as 10p per ride, this hop-on hop-off service is noisy, bumpy and completely open to the public. Whilst other modes of transport in the UAE have the option of segregating women and children, from men, as well as different social classes, the abra is a forum in which no such segregations can happen particularly easily. People of all kinds, from all backgrounds, are compelled to share the small, rickety space of the boat, should they wish to complete their journey.

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In Shimabuku's Boat Trip audiences are invited to depart from Sharjah's heritage area and embark on an adventure across the water. As they hop on the abra, they are sat with Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi staff who work at Port Khalid. Simultaneously, they are able to meet Biennial guests from all around the world. In highlighting the comic, bizarre, and ultimately tasteful juxtapositions, upon arriving at Port Khalid, passengers are welcomed with salt and pepper infused vanilla ice-cream. The flavour in Shimabuku’s words, represents the peppered backgrounds of those who embark on an unlikely encounter together.

In a city that is generally socially conservative, encounters outside your race and gender are often limited to the service sector- for example going to shopping markets, or riding in taxis, leaving little opportunity to converse and learn from one another. The success in the art came through the fact that there was very little appropriation of what is a day-to-day occurrence in Sharjah. The subtle addition to the scene, in the form of strange flavoured ice cream, simply highlighted the bizarre in a comic, non-threatening way. The audience were automatically engaged – if they wanted to cross the water, they had to use the abra. If they wanted to use the abra, they automatically became part of the art piece.

Curated and commissioned by Yuko Hasagewa for Sharjah Biennial 11- Reemerge, Towards a New Cultural Cartography, the curator and Sharjah Art Foundation commissioned projects by artists, musicians, architects and performers ' whose artworks and practices resonate with strands of the curatorial theme: the complexity and diversity of cultures and societies; spatial and political relations; notions of new forms of contact, dialogue, and exchange; and production through art and architectural practices of new ways of knowing, thinking, and feeling.' Biennial participation is by invitation and will begin their research by conducting a site-visit to Sharjah and will then proceed to propose a new work based on their experience and practice. The works are then produced with the support of Sharjah Art Foundation's Production Team who comprise of architects, engineers and artists. Shimabuku's Boat Trip received funding from the Production Programme grant at Sharjah Art Foundation.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency