For this edition of Being There: Tuesday Evenings with the Modern, we welcome Egyptian-born artist and filmmaker Wael Shawky in conjunction with the exhibition FOCUS: Wael Shawky. The artist will discuss the work in the show as well as his broader artistic career in which he explores the ambiguities between history and myth via multimedia presentation in order to challenge the authority of history. Some of the themes he investigates are the history of the Arab peninsula (The Gulf Project), medieval hostilities between Christians and Muslims (Cabaret Crusades), and the recounting of poetic myths (Al Araba Al Madfuna).
Wael Shawky was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1971, and he lives between Alexandria and Philadelphia. Recent exhibitions have been held at ARoS, Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Denmark; MoMA PS1, New York; K20 Düsseldorf; Serpentine Galleries, London; KW Contemporary Art Institute, Berlin; and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. He has participated in Lahore Biennale, Pakistan; Desert X, Al Ula, Saudi Arabia; 14th Istanbul Biennial, Turkey; 11th Sharjah Biennial, UAE; Documenta 13, Kassel, Germany; 9th Gwangju Biennial, South Korea; and 50th Venice Biennale, Italy. In 2010, Shawky founded the educational space MASS Alexandria.
“Set in a surreal and seductive world inhabited by marionettes, the three-hour plus long video trilogy explores the history of the Crusades from the Arab perspective. Shawky skillfully juxtaposes historical narrative with the childish world of puppetry—seriousness with naivety, fear with humor, horror with entertainment—to focus on events crucial to the development of an Arab identity. . . . Rather than offering the comfort of certainty, this long, disorienting, and intricate history paralyzes the viewer. Nevertheless, the ongoing impact of these tales is undeniable. A history of men killing each other in the name of god has become the excuse for today’s bloodshed. Shawky’s trilogy refuses to offer any new historical panacea and reminds contemporary man of the perils of taking history for granted.”
—Yasi Alipour, “Wael Shawky: The Cabaret Crusades,” Brooklyn Rail
A video recording of this lecture will be available on the Modern's Youtube.