This is the first in a series of posts about the winners of the 2012 Abraaj Capital Art Prize, to be unveiled at Art Dubai in March. For an introduction to the Art Prize, please see the tab Abraaj Art Prize on the menu. There you will find in addition to the introduction, links to other posts about the Art Prize, 2012 Winners, Curator Nat Muller, etc, as they become available.
I’m kicking off with Wael Shawky, one of my favorite artists. His work was one of my great discoveries attending Art Dubai 2011. I saw Shawky’s presentation of Cabaret Crusades, a multifaceted project centered around telling the story of the Crusades from an Arab perspective using 200-year-old Italian marionettes, at the Sharjah Art Foundation March Meetings, and more work exhibited at Art Dubai. I was immediately enchanted with this project, and I have enjoyed getting to know the rest of his body of work. In fact, this is the case with several Abraaj Art Prize winners.
Egyptian artist Wael Shawky creates work that provocatively explore themes like ‘Clash of Civilizations’ in our shifting, hybridized world, and translates unresolved, and transitioning issues of religion, culture and globalization. This translation does not address an end-point, but depicts a moment of transition.
In photographs, installations, videos and performances, he mines traditions of entertainment and performance in multi-layered reconstruction and retelling of history that force viewers to navigate the territory of truth, myth, stereotype and cliché.
Born in 1971, Shawky completed a BFA at The University of Alexandria, followed by an MFA at the University of Pennsylvania in 2000. His work has featured in international solo exhibitions including at Istanbul Biennial (2011) Cittadellarte-Fondazione Pistoletto, Biella, Italy (2010), the Townhouse Gallery, Cairo (2008), KVS, Brussels (2007), Galeria Sztuki Wspolczesnej, Bunkier Sztukim, Krakow (2007), Ludwigsburg Kunstverein, Germany (2005), and in group shows at Queens Museum of Art , New York (2009), Schunck-Glaspaleis, Heerlen (2009), Santa Fe Biennial (2008), Musée d’Art Contemporain de Nîmes (2008), Riwaq Biennale, Palestine (2007), Moscow Biennale (2007), Istanbul Biennial (2005), and the Venice Biennale (2003).
Awards received include: the International Commissioning Grant, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, New York (2005), The International Award of The Islamic World Arts Initiative, Arts International, New York (2004), The American Center Foundation Grant, Philadelphia (2004), Honorary Award, Rita Longa International Symposium, Bayamo, Cuba (2001), and The Grand Nile Prize, Cairo Biennial (1996). Shawky lives and works in Alexandria.
Source: Sharjah Art Foundation
Shawky is also the recipient of the Ernst Schering Foundation award for 2011: “Wael Shawky’s film oeuvre is remarkably impressive due to its consistent development and extraordinary precision: His re-performances of historical and political events ignite unconventional perspectives. He creates images that are crafted with technical mastership and therefore induce an immediate persuasiveness.”
In Cabaret Crusades, Shawky uses the Lupi Family Collection of precious 200-year-old marionettes to tell the story of the Crusades from the Arab perspective, based on Amin Maalouf’s classic, The Crusades Through Arab Eyes.
“In a retelling of the first crusades from the years 1096-1099, Shawky has made highly intricate film starring 200 year-old marionettes from the Italian Lupi Collection. This horror film of sorts follows the course of events after a Papal mandate sent half-a-million Franks on a military campaign to ‘reclaim’ Jerusalem from the Muslim armies. Mining this transformative historical moment for its profound resonance today, Shawky’s film examines the causes and effects of religious war and its impact on European and Arab relations while laying bare the question of who pulls the strings of history.”
Source: Sfeir-Semler Gallery. Follow the link to see extensive documentation of Shawky’s present and past works.
Lebanon’s Daily Star wrote an in-depth article on Cabaret Crusades including the best description of the story and film I have found to date. You can read it here: Civilization Clash: Who Pulls the Strings?
Wael Shawky’s 2011 Presentation on Cabaret Crusades at Sharjah March Meetings.
“Al-Aqsa Park” is an animated film installation where the Dome of the Rock, the symbolic referring to the al-Aqsa complex in Jerusalem, is displayed as a fairground carousel. Although the work brings an additional reflection on the intersection of the discourses of political systems and religiosity, a theme salient to Shawky’s rich career, the al-Aqsa Park installation is essentially centered on the idea of controlled entertainment that the experience of riding a carousel, as well as its spectacle, delivers. The carousel, conventionally the center-piece of a fair, circling at a speed to generate weightlessness and ‘freedom’, is actually a machine maneuvered by an operator, according to a tightly controlled schedule. (Source: Meeting Point 5)
Engaging and Championing the Arts Throughout the MENASA Region
2012 Abraaj Winners share a common link of championing the arts by supporting artists and artistic production, and strengthening the artistic infrastructure of the region.
Wael Shawky started MASS Alexandria in 2010 to provide an opportunity for independent study and learning for artists in Egypt. MASS Alexandria is located in the east-Alexandrian neighborhood of Miami. The 440-sqm space is housed in the basement of a residential building. The basement is a shared studio, meeting, screening and performance space. Through its program, MASS Alexandria aims to supplement existing art education programs, with a focus on the conceptual aspects of artistic production. Monthly workshops, seminars and lectures are led by artists, art educators and curators. Focusing on contemporary artistic practices, the program also encourages students to work closely with cultural, artistic and scientific ideas in the fields of art history and theory and inter-disciplinary studies.
Read more on the MASS Alexandria website.
In His Own Words
What themes are you currently examining within your work?
What is your artistic approach and how is it influenced by the diverse media you use?
What do you want to impart to the audience through your work?
I’m super excited to see what Wael Shawky reveals as his Abraaj Capital Art Prize work at Art Dubai. I also have my fingers crossed that Cabaret Crusades will be presented at Art Dubai. After an extensive video search, I have not been able to find anything but images, and I’m dying to see it. Honestly, I haven’t been this excited to see a video work since The Cremaster Cycle!