Wael Shawky, Winning Artist, Abraaj Group Art Prize 2012
A Glimpse of Clean History, Ceramics, wood & velvet
Wael Shawky is fascinated by processes of transition and how an understanding of local systems translates into global relations. The crusades are a prime historical example of a time in transition, of ideological and global expansion. ‘A Glimpse of Clean History’ takes as its starting point a painting by the preeminent French painter Jean Fouquet (1420-1481), Urban II 1035-1099 preaching the crusade at Clermont in the presence of King Philippe I 1053-1108 of France in 1095. In the painting Pope Urban II delivers a speech, which is thought to have led to the launch of the First Crusade one year later, in 1096.
The chronicling and representation of this historical event has followed a trajectory from historical manuscript to Fouquet’s painting. In ‘A Glimpse of Clean History’ Shawky introduces his own transformation, albeit with a critical twist: a three-dimensional object in the form of a medieval marionette theatre with ceramic dolls.
As an audience we are only privy to the scene for a short period of time. The grand velvet drapes open mechanically revealing the interior diorama of the marionette stage – for one minute – then close again. We are literally allowed only a glimpse of history, a furtive glance on a scene, which we know, due to its many manifestations over time, can never be clean. In freezing a significant historical moment, A Glimpse of Clean History transforms the representation of history into a miniaturised theatrical event where the viewers’ mode of consumption is mechanically controlled.
Wael Shawky studied fine art at the University of Alexandria before receiving his M.F.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 2000. He lives and works in Alexandria. In 2010 he launched MASS Alexandria, the first Independent Studio Programme for young artists in the city.
Shawky has received international acclaim for his work as an artist and filmmaker, his work largely explores transitional events in society, politics, culture and religion in the history of the Arab world. He has had numerous solo shows including: Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham, UK (2011) Galerie SfeirSemler, Beirut, Lebanon (2010), Cittadellarte, Italy (2010), Townhouse Gallery, Cairo, Egypt (2009). Cabaret Crusades: The Horror Show File (2010) at ‘Untitled (12th Istanbul Biennial)’(2011).
He has also exhibited at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, UK (2011), Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Brussels, Belgium (2011), New Museum and Queen’s Museum of Art, New York, UK, SITE Santa Fe Biennial, Santa Fe, US (2008); 3rd Riwaq Biennale, Ramallah, Palestine (2009), 3rd Marrakech Biennale, Morocco (2009), ‘Disorientation II’, Abu Dhabi, UAE (2009), 2nd Moscow Biennale, Russia (2007), 50th Venice Biennale, Italy (2003) among others. His work is included in the collections of Tate Modern, London, MACRO Museum, Rome, Darat Al Funun, Amman and Mart Museum Collection, Rovereto. Shawky has received Egyptian and international prizes such as the Ernest Schering Foundation Art Award, Berlin, (2011). He has participated in several international residency programmes.
Wael Shawky is represented by Galerie Sfeir-Semler, Hamburg/Beirut.