Pulling the strings on Arab history

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One of Egypt’s most celebrated contemporary artists, Wael Shawky, makes work of a grand and complicated scale. His recent half-hour long film “Cabaret Crusade: The Horror File” is the first installment in what he plans will be a four-part video narrative of the Crusades, starring marionettes.

It was recently exhibited at the 12th Istanbul Biennale alongside large-scale, glossy photographs of the marionettes that raise them to the status of movie stars, and drawn and sculptural elements built out of the film’s visual language. Shawky has said that in his work he seeks to create a “hybridized society,” and he often presents familiar historical events, with altered rules and jarring pairings, employing child actors – or in this case puppets – to generate questions about contemporary social and cultural issues through contrasts.

The artist has of late been showered with grants and awards, most notably the Abraaj Capital Art Prize, a Dubai-based prize through which artists receive funding for proposed projects to be exhibited at Art Dubai in March. Shawky was not at liberty to discuss from Marseille his plans for the Abraaj Capital exhibition. Yet, he spoke to us his current projects, including the next installment of “Cabaret Crusade.”...

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