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wael shawky

Born in Alexandria (Egypt) in 1971. Studied at the Academy of Fine Art in Alexandria and University of Pennsylvania. His works are concerned with moving from place to place, nomadic life, clash of cultures, problem of economic transformations and political changes. Exploring the traditions of Islam, he juxtaposes it with cosmopolitan poetics of modernism. Nomadic tradition of the Bedouin community who do not know the notion of boundaries becomes a metaphor of globalization..
His major medium is video, the most recognized films: "Sidi El Asphalt's Moulid" (2001), "Asphalt Quarter" (2003), "The Cave" (2004) and "The Greenland Circus" (2005).
In his video installation "The Cave" he recited a fragment of Koran in a super market, discussing a problem of the hybridization and merging of cultures in a homogenous construct. A paradoxical clash of the space of a super market as a symbol of capitalist welfare and fragment of the holy book of Islam on knowledge and authority get reinforced by the English translation projected at the bottom of the screen. The title refers here to a story written in the 15th sutra of Koran recited by the artist.
"Sidi El Asphalt's Moulid" was based on social and political observations of contemporary Egypt. It refers direct to social and political transformations, from the 70s to the globalization of the late 90s, revealing the gaps which were established as a result of sudden changes.
"Sidi El Asphalt's Moulid" constitutes an attempt at a complex look at the condition of Egyptian society, avoiding any evaluations. In "The Greenland Circus" the artist refers to the tradition of a circus, place which played an important role in the past, where the line between the audience and performers, whose strangeness or disability was demonstrated, was clearly marked . Shawky presents a contemporary version of the Egyptian circus, wondering where runs the boundary between what is "normal", correct, officially allowed and what does not belong to the accepted rules.
In his most recent works he concentrates on conveying social changes he witnesses in a visual language. He aspires after creating a portrait of a contemporary hybrid society with unclear divisions and boundaries. The artist compares himself to a translator and sees his role in translating social tensions into a visual medium of an image.

[Translated by Anda McBride]

^ Wael Shawky, Al Aqsa Parc, 2006

^ Wael Shawky, Al Aqsa Parc, 2006

^ Wael Shawky, The Cave, video, 2004

^ Wael Shawky, The Cave, video, 2004

^ Wael Shawky, Asphalt Quarter, asphalt, liquid tar, graphite, silver paint, metal, fluorescent light, glass, wood, 4 synchronized DVDs and plasma screens; 2003

^ Wael Shawky, Sidi El Asphalt's Moulid, video, 2002

Wael Shawky:

Over the past 12 years my work has been concerned with a number of specific contexts (modernization, displacement, cultural hybridization, and marginalization). In the last 5 years I experienced a paradigm shift in my work on the levels of concept, practice and materials. How the material becomes translated in a "religious" fashion. A belief in the chemical content of the material leads to an approach where increasing the value of the conceptual connections in terms of contrast between the methods of production and the material itself is achieved.
The contrast arises out of how we actually deal with the material through a specific belief that is utilized within a functional practice- a certain pragmatic thinking. For example using asphalt in my work is religious because of a basic conceptual belief that the chemical properties of the material itself possesses a certain excess beyond function. Such a position takes the work into what I term the "religious".(...)

(...) In most of my work over the last period I have been aiming to construct a hybridized society. A system of a society in transition, a condition that is not clear, a translation. I see my role as that of the translator- this translation is heightened the closer I come to a system of an actually existing society. There is an attempt to imitate exact systems (nomadism, agricultural societies, urbanism) through an anthropological and artistic analysis, a level of representation appears because of the nature of imitation. At the same time all elements that are chosen are extremely specific, every element has historical and social references. The act of bringing together all these elements in a system that is close to the system we function in socially presents us with an amount of criticism of the "viability of the social system. When systematizing these specific elements at the same level of seriousness of our lived existence- a certain cynicism appears.(...)

"...Cave, a video work featuring him [Shawky] walking around a local supermarket reciting sections of the Koran. At first glance, the video appears much like a news broadcast, Shawky walks between the aisles talking directly to the camera [...]. Whereas he is in fact delivering fro memory a passage in the Koran and his focus and faultless flow of verse result here fro years spent as a child learning it.
The title Cave, refers to the story of the Cave and seven sleepers. Originally a Greek legend, the tale can be found in the Latin work of Gregory of Tours and in many religious writings. Shawky recites the Surah that contains this narrative of seven men who lived in the city of Ephesus in Turkey around 250AD and took refuge from persecution by hiding in a cave. The sleepers awoke to find that they had slept for 200 years and that Christianity had become the dominant faith of the empire.
The subtitles that run across the image, do so at such a pace that rather than offer translation, they support the belief that there is indeed no substitute for the original written language of the Koran, namely Arabic. Yet, in his real-time performance Shawky manages to collapse the hierarchy of religion and language. [...] The story of seven sleepers bridges religion and culture, acting as a metaphor to describe the speed of capitalism [...] and its isolating effect on the individual."

[N.P.], in: 9th International Istanbul Biennial, catalogue, Istanbul 2005, p. 76.

wael shawky

b.1971, Alexandria, Egypt
1994
Faculty of Fine Arts, Alexandria University, Alexandria
1996
Grand Nile Prize, 6th International Cairo Biennial, Cairo
2001
Graduate School of Fine Arts, University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia
2001
Honorary Award, Rita Longa International Symposium, Codema, Bayamo, Cuba
2004
The International Award of The Islamic World Arts Initiative, Arts International, New York
2004
Residency program, Platform Garanti of Contemporary Art, Istanbul
lives and works in Cairo

selected solo exhibitions:

2006
Drawings (1998-2006), The Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art, Cairo, EG

2005
The Green Land Circus, Factory Space, The Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art, Cairo, EG
Loosing Identity, Ludwigsburg Kunstverein, Ludwigsburg, D

2003
Asphalt Quarter, installation, The Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art, Cairo, EG

2002
When He Decided to Visit the Christmas Village, performance at Main Space, Cairo, EG

2001
Transitions, installation, Gemmayzeh, Beirut, LB
Sidi El Asphalt's Moulid, installation, The Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art, Cairo, EG

selected group exhibitions:

2006
5 Tage bis zum Ende der Kunst - Fremd bin ich eingezogen, Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel, D
No Man's Land (Part II), Hellenic American Union, Athens, GR
Choosing My Religion, Kunstmuseum Thun, Thun, CH
Di-Segni/ Drawings, Studio Trisorio, Napoli, I
Art, Life and Confusion, 47th October Art Salon Belgrade, RS
No Matter What, I Will Always be Distant From You, The Artists Cinema, Frieze Art Fair, London, GB
Coding: Decoding, Nikolaj, Copenhagen Contemporary Art Center and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Copenhagen, DK
No Man's Land (Part I), 6th Visual Arts Festival, Kodra Field, Thessaloniki, GR
Most Probably I Will Be Performing This Dream Tonight, video installation mounted in cinema Marignan, Hamra, Beirut, LB
Outside The Living Room, GB Agency, Paris, F
Stile der stadt, Artist's project in Hamburg, Gro▀e Bergstra▀e, Altona, Hamburg, D

2005
9th Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul, TR
ADAM, Smart Project Space, Amsterdam, NL
Urban Realities, Focus Istanbul, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, D
Museum collection exhibition, The Museum of Modern Art Rome (MACRO), Rome, I
Normalization, Platform Garanti of Contemporary Art, Istanbul, TR
FotoCairo 3, The Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art, Cairo, EG

2004
Mediterraneans, The Museum of Modern Art Rome (MACRO), Rome, I
Meeting Points, Makan House, Amman, JO
4th Les journÚes de la Photographie, Centre Culturel Franšais de Damas, Damascus, SY

2003
Group Exhibition, Les Laboratoires d'Aubervilliers, Aubervilliers, F
24/7 Vilnius, CAC museum, Vilnius, LT
50th La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, I
Body and the Archive, Artists Space, New York, USA
International Video Invitational, Fa Project, London, GB
International Experimental Film Festival, Goethe Institute, Alexandria / Cairo, EG

2002
Close up an Artistic Collaborative Workshop and Exhibition (Sweden-Egypt)
Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art, Cairo, EG

2001
Rita Longa International Art Symposium, Codema, Bayamo, CU
2nd Al Nitaq Festival of Visual Arts, The Townhouse Gallery, Cairo , EG

2000
Group Exhibition, Meyrson Hall Gallery, Philadelphia, USA
1st Al Nitaq Festival of Visual Arts, Talaat Harb Square, Cairo, EG

1997
Contemporary Egyptian Art, Kunst Historischan Museum, Vienna, AUS

1996
6th International Cairo Biennial, Museum of Modern Art, Cairo, EG

1995
Group exhibition, Al Hanager Gallery, Opera House Complex, Cairo, EG

1994
6th Salon of Youth, Akhnaton Art Centre, Cairo, EG

[Translated by Ma│gorzata Sady]

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16 XI - 31 XII 2006
shahram entekhabi
It’s Been a Long Way, Baby...

23 III - 22 IV 2007
wael shawky
The Forty Days Road. Wet culture - Dry Culture

27 IV - 03 VI 2007
olaf breuning
Woman and Dead

06 VII - 02 IX 2007
jesper alvaer, isabela grosseova
Figure and Ground

07 IX - 21 X 2007
adrian paci
Spaces in-between

13 XII - 27 I 2008
loulou cherinet
Verbatim

The conference is a part of the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue in Poland

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