Whether you’re a lover of art or of wandering down alleys and exploring traditional buildings, Sharjah Art Area should be high on your list of places to visit. Join me as I take you on a tour of some of my favourite spots – Bait Al Shamsi, Emirates Fine Arts Society, Sharjah Art Museum, Bait Al Serkal along with other venues and share photos I have taken over several years.
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Sharjah Art Area
Set back from Sharjah Corniche, the area is mainly made up of a number of restored merchants’ homes housing galleries, art societies and institutes, an art shop and Sharjah Art Foundation headquarters. Many of the buildings date back to mid 19th century and have been restored.
Bait Al Shamsi
Let us start our tour at Bait Al Shamsi, once the residence of Obaid Al Shamsi, dates back to 1845 and was renovated in 1997.
Most large homes in the region had an enclosed courtyard with many rooms leading off it. Bait al Shamsi was no different and thirteen of these were transformed into studios, where contemporary artists from across the globe are invited to showcase their work. This place becomes even more vibrant in the evenings as artists gather to discuss and share insights about their creations, making it a lively spot for artistic exchange and inspiration.
Once you have seen the exhibitions in the individual galleries and perhaps sat with a cup of Arabic tea or coffee in the majlis, take the stairs to the upper level and admire traditional arches on the verandah and the view over the creek and docks on one side and the courtyard on the other.
Although the cafe is no longer open, you can still sit on the terrace enjoying the beautiful traditional architecture. To continue on to Sharjah Art Museum, exit Bait Al Shamsi from the side door down a narrow alley.
Emirates Fine Arts Society
On the way, you’ll pass the Emirates Fine Arts Society on your left. If the door is open, drop in to see if an exhibition is on and maybe a chat.
It has several small galleries and the Society organises courses, workshops, lectures, small exhibitions of different art forms and occasionally performances. It is sometimes a venue for larger events, such as the Islamic Arts Festival.
Sharjah Art Museum
The architecture of Sharjah Art Museum incorporates traditional Emirati design in keeping with other buildings in the area and arches run the length of the building’s interior.
The museum hosts temporary exhibitions on the lower level, including the annual Sharjah Islamic Arts Festival (see more below) and the Sharjah Biennial.
Don’t miss the permanent galleries upstairs in the West Wing. On one side is a collection belonging to the Burjeel Art Foundation, an independent art institution based in Sharjah but reaching worldwide. It has a variety of modern and contemporary art pieces, including oil paintings, acrylics, tapestries, sculptures and mixed media, all from the Arab world.
On the other side is HH Sheikh Sultan Al Qasimi’s private collection of artwork, ‘Light of the Orient’. The drawings and paintings by European explorers and travellers depict life in the Arab world, giving a marvellous insight into life in days gone by. The Moroccan scene below was painted by Hungarian artist Ferencz Eisenhut in 1888.
Beyond that, there are other small private collections.
The museum also has a library, which the public can access, a cafe and a small gift shop.
Sharjah Islamic Arts Festival
Sharjah Islamic Arts Festival is held annually, usually starting in December and continuing through to January. The main exhibition area is Sharjah Art Museum, but exhibits can be found across the city and across the emirate. This year, the 25th edition will run until 21 January 2024.
Below are some exhibits from the 25th Edition.
Below are some exhibits from previous editions of Sharjah Islamic Arts Festival at Sharjah Art Museum
Bait Al Serkal
Moving back across the road from Sharjah Art Museum is Bait Al Serkal, which is home to another gallery and was restored between 1993 and 1995 and further renovated in 2022.
Built in the 19th century, Bait Al Serkal was originally the home of the British Commissioner and later the first hospital in Sharjah in the 1960s. If you find yourself talking to locals born in that time, you may find that was their birthplace.
Sharjah Art Foundation
Alongside art exhibitions, Sharjah Art Foundation organises film festivals, film screenings, music and performance programmes, residency programmes for artists and opportunities for interns and volunteers to gain experience.
They offer workshops and events for the general public, including ceramics, painting, drawing, sculpting, engraving, printing and mural painting. The workshops are free and aimed at adults, children, families and families with disabilities and take place on Saturdays. The courses cost around AED 500 and run on weekdays with morning and evening options.
Many of these are held at the Sharjah Art Institute pictured below and in the Collections building behind it.
The activities under the Sharjah Art Foundation are not confined to the city but span across the emirate, including central and eastern regions. This is a testament to Sharjah’s commitment to cultural richness and diversity. They ensure that art is made freely available for everyone from all walks of life and of all ages to enjoy.
Two regular events held by SAF are the annual March Meetings with keynote speakers, panel discussions and film screenings, and the Sharjah Biennial, an international contemporary art exhibition incorporating a broad spectrum of art forms.
To check for current exhibitions and events, visit their website or sign up for their newsletter. Look out for dates for walking or photo tours.
The Foundation’s opening hours are Saturday to Thursday from 8am to 8pm, and on Friday from 4pm to 8pm.
Al Daleel Mosque
Al Daleel Mosque is the oldest in the city of Sharjah and is still functioning. It’s located in Arts Square next to the Sharjah Art Institute and the Collections Building.
Other art spaces run by SAF in Sharjah city include The Rain Room, Al Mureijah Art Spaces, The Flying Saucer and Design 71. Venues outside the city include Al Dhaid Old Clinic and Kalba Ice Factory. Most are repurposed buildings supporting Sharjah’s sustainability goals.
What else is near Sharjah Art Area?
- Heart of Sharjah
- Museum of Islamic Civilization
- The Rain Room
- Al Mureijah Art Spaces
- Arabian Tea House
- Souqs Al Sagr and Al Shanasiyah
This post was first published on May 29 2021 and rewritten on December 29 2023.
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- Restored merchant’s homes with traditional decor
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Sharjah Art Area is included in some of the walking tours and itineraries in my book, Exploring the Emirate of Sharjah – Walking and cycling tours and itineraries in the city and Central and Eastern Regions
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