Wael Shaw­ky From Tents to Skys­cra­pers


Wael Shaw­ky’s vi­deos from the Ca­ba­ret Cru­sades se­ries at­trac­ted consi­de­rable at­ten­tion at Kas­sel in 2012. A few months la­ter, Dic­tums, the per­for­mance he gave for the 2013 Shar­jah Bien­nale, was one of the most subtle contri­bu­tions at what is an event of real qua­li­ty. For some ten years now, Shaw­ky has been wea­ving to­ge­ther com­plex in­ter­ac­tions bet­ween po­li­tics and re­li­gion, fun­da­men­ta­lism and ca­pi­ta­lism, re­li­gious rites and the in­fluence of the me­dia. The Ser­pen­tine Gal­le­ry and the Lis­son Gal­le­ry in Lon­don re­cent­ly held so­lo shows of his work, fea­tu­ring two new films.


When and how did you know you would be an artist? My fa­mi­ly went to Sau­di Ara­bia in 1972 and stayed there for se­ven years. That is where I grew up. We were co­ming back to Egypt in the sum­mer. Ever since I was a child, I ne­ver ex­pec­ted to have any other ca­reer. Then I went to uni­ver­si­ty in Alexan­dria and gra­dua­ted in 1994. At that time eve­ry­thing was con­trol­led by the go­vern­ment. Tea­ching was ve­ry aca­de­mic and ve­ry French. Egypt was ve­ry ac­tive du­ring the age of mo­der­ni­ty then the art scene stop­ped. There was a huge gap bet­ween my ge­ne­ra­tion and the ge­ne­ra­tion be­fore. So we had to start from scratch to invent a unique lan­guage and make up this mis­sing link. Eve­ry sum­mer, as the on­ly sources we had in Egypt were books, I would go to New York to see ex­hi­bi­tions. But it was al­so ve­ry im­por­tant to me to see America from an aca­de­mic point of view, so I went to Penn­syl­va­nia Uni­ver­si­ty, not so much for edu­ca­tion, be­cause I was al­rea­dy ve­ry ac­tive in Egypt, as to open up new di­rec­tions in my work. In Alexan­dria I had a big studio and was al­ways thin­king of ma­king pro­jects that were open to the pu­blic, with other ar­tists. But I ne­ver had time to do so and most of my pro­duc­tion was being done abroad. So I de­ci­ded to turn it in­to an aca­de­my. Its edu­ca­tion sys­tem is ba­sed on that of the mas­ters de­gree I took at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia. We had a lot of vi­si­ting ar- tists. Ac­tual­ly MASS Alexan­dria is not open to a broad au­dience but on­ly to twen­ty or thir­ty stu­dents. Whe­ne­ver I am in­vi­ted to a bien­nial, I ask the cu­ra­tors to come and give a talk. In 2012, when I sho­wed at Do­cu­men­ta, ten stu­dents went to Kas­sel to help other ar­tists, and the cu­ra­to­rial team of Do­cu­men­ta came to MASS Alexan­dria for a se­mi­nar.


In your tri­lo­gy of pup­pet ani­ma­tions Ca­ba­ret Cru­sades—The Hor­ror Show Files (2010), The Path to Cairo (2012) and The Secrets of Kar­ba­la (2014)—you re­sta­ged with pup­pets the clashes bet­ween Mus­lims and Ch­ris­tians. The first film of Ca­ba­ret Cru­sades was shot be­fore the re­vo­lu­tion in Egypt. Then it was in­ter­rup­ted and the se­cond epi­sode was shot in Au­bagne. But it is not a reac­tion to cur­rent events. Do you use his­to­ry as a ma­gni­fying glass? Most of my works have to do with so­cie­ties in tran­si­tion, be­cause of my child­hood

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