Egyptian artist discusses his artwork at NU-Q

By Fatima Hassan

Shawky talked about the changing form his art has taken over his career [Photo by Vibhav Gautam]
Shawky talked about the changing form his art has taken over his career [Photo by Vibhav Gautam]


Egyptian artist Wael Shawky showcased his work at Northwestern University in Qatar on Wednesday, September 8. The presentation titled “From Wet Culture – Dry Culture to Cabaret Crusades” explored the Crusades of Medieval Europe through an Arab lens using marionettes.

More than 60 people attended the community hour event.

Shawky, 45, was born in Alexandria, Egypt and has an MFA from the University of Pennsylvania. He is now a resident artist at Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art, located in Education City. His first work in story-telling was an exhibition in Cairo in 2007 titled “Wet Culture – Dry Culture,” which incorporated a series of photographs, videos and drawings.

“The wet culture represented the agricultural, city life of Egypt, and the dry culture represented the nomadic life of the Bedouins,” he said.

Shawky spent a large part of his childhood in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. “Since I lived in Egypt and after that in Mecca, as a kid I was always trying to make a comparison between city life and nomadism.”

He first thought about using marionettes in his productions after working with children for his three-part film, “Al Araba Al Madfuna,” which was centered around a remote town in Egypt by the same name.

“I enjoy working with kids – they are the future of society. They have no dramatic memories. They don’t have any rigid ideas yet about how things should go. When you work with kids, you don’t have this complexity with gender complexity or the acting skills. Basically, it’s like with marionettes,” Shawky said.

He now spends weeks upon weeks perfecting his puppet creations before filming the performance. 

His three-part “Cabaret Crusades” showcases three different types of marionettes: wooden, ceramic and glass.

“Glass took longest to make,” he explained. “They were made with handmade blown glass one by one, and the first is not like the other. We produced almost 230 marionettes. It took one year.”

Using the exquisite marionettes, Shawky relates the crusades through the eyes of a ruler in Damascus who signed the peace agreement between the Muslims and crusaders of Jerusalem. He reenacts the events, starting from the attempt to establish Christian rule in the Holy Land to the destruction of Constantinople.

His project was inspired by the French Lebanese author Amin Malouf’s book, “The Crusades through Arab Eyes.”






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