Lisson Gallery presents a new work by the artist Wael Shawky who explores systems of belief and reinterprets faith, myth and history through the lens of the modern media.
In Dictums: Manqia I (2014), herds of prize black camels are driven across the desert, perhaps en route to one of the prestigious camel parades or beauty pageants that are held in the Gulf region, known as mazaynas. These rare, dark breeds of camel are coveted across the Arab world, with those winning ‘best in show’ often being traded for astronomical sums and even appearing on their own dedicated television channels. Having previously worked with the indigenous cultures and traditions of nomadic Bedouin tribespeople, Shawky similarly charts patterns of physical, economic and intellectual migration in this video, shot by the artist on location near Abu Dhabi.
The overarching title of his exhibition, Dictums, refers to a live performance originally produced for the Sharjah Biennial in 2013 in which Shawky assembled 30 workers of primarily Pakistani origin, to clap and chant through a recital by two professional musicians or qawwals, trained in signing traditional Sufi ballads. The words to their song were culled from a curatorial statement of the biennial and translated into Urdu, creating a hypnotic, harmonic, if largely indecipherable, rendition of the kind of opaque artistic language generally associated with contemporary art discourse. As with all of Shawky’s films, this piece combines astute observation of its subject matter with a keen sense of institutional critique.
Not only does Shawky’s work straddle documentary filmmaking, performance, animation, music and even puppetry, as can be seen in his major exhibition, al- Qurban, at the Serpentine Galleries (until 9 February), his show at Lisson Gallery also includes new drawings, as well as wall-based assemblages incorporating metal plaques – of the kind found adorning transportation trucks in Pakistan – which have been stitched on to strips of tarmac with galvanised wire.