Wael Shawky who is based in Alexandria, Egypt, and Philadelphia, presents a film from his ambitious trilogy Cabaret Crusades, along with new and related drawings and sculpture. In this exhibition, as with much of his work, the artist explores the ambiguities between history and myth in a 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).
Shawky’s projects combine artistic imagination and purportedly accurate facts. This mix of truth and fiction raises questions about the role of history—and the biases held by those writing it—in forming longstanding national identities and geographies. For the Cabaret Crusades films, the scripts are based on the work of ancient Arab historians and geographers, such as Ibn al-Qalanisi, Ibn Jubayr, and Ibn al-Athir. However, the scripts are acted out by fanciful, childlike marionettes to foil the serious nature and horrors of the original narratives. Shawky’s themes of religious and geographical antagonism still have much relevance today, leading the work to resonate equally with the present and the past. FOCUS: Wael Shawky will be the artist’s first exhibition in the southwestern United States.