Wael Shawky: The Crusades and Current Stories

ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, Aarhus, Denmark
19 May 2018 - 02 Sep 2018

Wael Shawky, Cabaret Crusades - The Horror Show File (video still), 2010. HD video, color, sound, 31min. 49 sec. Courtesy the artist & Lisson Gallery, London.

Wael Shawky, Cabaret Crusades - The Horror Show File (video still), 2010. HD video, color, sound, 31min. 49 sec. Courtesy the artist & Lisson Gallery, London.

Egyptian artist Wael Shawky (b. 1971) invites visitors to enter a truly spectacular universe as ARoS Aarhus Art Museum presents Wael Shawky – The Crusades and Current Stories.

The mainstay of the exhibition is Shawky’s famous marionette-based film trilogy, Cabaret Crusades. The exhibition also includes a selection of the marionettes used in the films, large woodcuts, two of which were created especially for the exhibition at ARoS, drawings, photographs, collages and an entirely new, site-specific work unfurling through the museum foyer like a giant wall.

The narrative
The overarching narrative of the exhibition takes its starting point in the political game for possession of Jerusalem and power over the Middle East that was played out during the period 1095 to 1291. These events would later be known as “the Crusades.”

The exhibition is highly relevant today, particularly because most of us probably have very simplified ideas about these historical events. These are very complex matters that prompt strong emotional responses. The issues here are not just about religious conflict, but also about high-stakes international politics, military influence and control. We need a greater and more wide-ranging understanding of history, and that’s what Shawky gives us with this exhibition, says museum director Erlend G. Høyersten, ARoS.

About Cabaret Crusades – A Crusade With No Heroes
The film trilogy Cabaret Crusades offers a dramatic, even theatrical retelling of a series of historic events. The puppets appearing in the films wear oriental clothes and knightly armour, and no-one is unequivocally good or evil.

Shawky relates the story of the Crusades from an Arab point of view. Hence, all the characters speak Arabic. The book The Crusades Through Arab Eyes (1984) by the French-Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf formed the starting point of Shawky’s puppet films.

Wael Shawky takes a different approach in the large woodcuts, which he bases on old European oil paintings from the 16th and 19th centuries. At the same time, he calls attention to the fact that many of the paintings and other historical sources from the past are actually entirely or partially misleading.

Shawky takes a critical view of how historical events have been recounted. In his woodcuts and films alike, he often adds mythical elements to show us how historical accounts of the past are often untrue, distorted or blinkered cultural constructs. Shawky is very much aware that the real reasons underpinning political conflict in the past and in our present are often informed by self-interest and personal points of view, says curator Maria Kappel Blegvad, ARoS.

About Wael Shawky
Wael Shawky was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1971. He grew up in Mecca in Saudi Arabia. After graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Alexandria in 1994, he relocated to Philadelphia in the United States to get his MFA. Since his major breakthrough at Documenta 13 in 2012, he has won great international acclaim and success as one of the most original video artists working today. His most recent large-scale solo shows were presented at Castello di Rivoli in Turin (Italy), Kunsthaus Bregenz in Bregenz (Austria) and at MoMA P.S.1 in New York.

The exhibition is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated catalogue in Danish and English. The book includes an interview with the artist, texts about the individual works and an article by Jørgen Bæk Simonsen, scholar and expert on Islam and Middle Eastern history.

The exhibition is curated by Maria Kappel Blegvad, curator, ARoS.

ARoS Aarhus Art Museum
Aros Allé 2
8000 Aarhus



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