Egyptian artist Wael Shawky is taking over Italy this winter with three distinct yet complementary solo exhibitions scattered across the country.
A retrospective of work by Shawky at Castello di Rivoli until February 5 features sculptures, films, photographs and new wooden high-relief works, all part of his Cabaret Crusades series exploring the Crusades through Arab eyes. Shawky’s trilogy of films uses wooden, ceramic and glass marionettes to present the historic military campaigns from the perspective of Arab leaders.
Curator Carolyn Christov Bakargiev has created an immersive experience for viewers, who encounter different aspects of the work in specially adapted spaces. The exhibition begins in the Manica Lunga, which has been painted blue and houses the new wooden reliefs. A specially fabricated construction houses a screen on which Cabaret Crusades: The Horror Show File is being shown. Shawky has also contributed 26 sculptures, which are on display in the garden, where a minaret-like construction hosts screenings of Cabaret Crusades: The Path to Cairo. The final part of the exhibition consists of photographs of Shawky’s ingenious marionettes and screenings of the final video in the trilogy, The Secrets of Karbala.
At Merz Foundation in Torino, Shawky’s video trilogy Al Alaraba Al Madfuna is also on show until February 5, curated by Abdula Karroum. Based on tales by Egyptian author Mohamed Mustagab, the films feature young boys with glued-on moustaches speaking in the voices of adult men, telling magical tales in flawless classical Arabic. In the first film, one boy slowly digs a large hole in the earth floor of the room as the others recount the surreal tale of a village where men who blindly follow the instructions of their sheikhs over successive generations gradually transform into animals.
Shawky was inspired to create the series after a visit to Upper Egypt, where he saw the villagers in Al Araba Al Madfuna digging in their houses in search of buried treasure, following the advice of holy men believed to have the power to divine the location of ancient artefacts. Shawky was fascinated by the contradiction in this process, the villagers’ belief that by using a metaphysical system, a sort of magic, they could uncover material treasure.
Karroum takes viewers on an immersive tour through environments that complement the films’ content, featuring architectural set designs and sculptures created especially for the exhibition.
Shawky’s first solo exhibition at Lisson Gallery Milan, running until January 13, ties together the contents of his shows in Rivoli and Turin. The exhibition showcases a selection of the works on paper that Shawky produced while working on both the Cabaret Crusades and Al Araba Al Madfuna film trilogies.
Drawing is an important aspect of Shawky’s work, acting as a vehicle for storytelling. Lisson Gallery Milan is exhibiting 20 works on paper in graphite, pigments, ink and oil that provide insight into the artist’s creative process, revealing the careful planning and broad creative vision that goes into each one of his films.
Shawky’s works on paper are accompanied by a new freestanding glass mirror panel adorned with a 14th century map of one of the ancient cities of the Crusades.
By Irene McConnell