Wael Shawky

Biography of Wael Shawky

The work of Egyptian artist Wael Shawky frequently uses the medium of storytelling to explore the cultural history and traditions of the Middle East as well as the effects of globalization on contemporary societies. Skillfully blending myth and historical fact, Shawky's art always incorporates an element of the fantastical and of childlike wonder akin to Magical Realism, spanning video, performance and installation work.


Wael Shawky's remarkable trilogy of films entitled Cabaret Crusades: The Horror Show Files, 2010, The Path to Cairo, 2012, and The Secrets of Karbala, 2014 retells key moments of the Crusades from a Middle Eastern perspective in the form of a puppet show, the artist rereading medieval history from the position of the other. He thus questions the validity of the notion of one single truth, one single history, dominated like so many other things by Western systems of thought, in favor of accepting the multiplicity of different interpretations of one event. The strange forms and facial expressions of Shawky's handcrafted marionettes introduce an element of the surreal, of the incongruous into the tale the piece tells, adding further layers of meaning to the artwork. In a similar vein, Shawky's Al Araba Al Madfuna II, 2013, sees young people reciting Egyptian novelist Mohamed Mustagab’s poetic verses, using the naiveté of children to reframe and reread the meanings of the culturally significant Arabic texts.


Born in 1971, Wael Shawky lives and works in Alexandria. He has exhibited widely including solo exhibitions at MoMA P.S.1, New York, Serpentine Galleries, London, and KW Contemporary Art Institute, Berlin. Shawky has participated in numerous biennials, notably documenta 13, Kassel, in 2012 and the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003. He was also honored with the inaugural Mario Merz Prize in 2015 and the Award for Filmic Oeuvre created by Louis Vuitton and Kino der Kunst in 2013.

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