Cabaret Crusades: The Secrets of Karbala, 2015, HD video, sound, colour, 120 minutes






The gallery opened Wael Shawky’s new project, “The Secrets of Karbala”, the third part of the Cabaret Crusades trilogy, which was produced in 2014 and launched in 2015 in major solo exhibitions at the Düsseldorf Museum K20, MoMA PS1 in New York and at Qatar’s Mathaf.

The trilogy recounts the Crusades from an Arab perspective, initially based on Amine Maalouf’s “The Crusades through Arab Eyes”, with the first part premiering in our Beirut gallery in 2010.


“The Secrets of Karbala” is a musical mixture of traditional Arab music (Le Fijiri from the Gulf, Egyptian Sufi enshad, Iraqi Shia Radoud voices) and electronic music. The plot goes back and forth on the historical timeline from the 7th century to the 12th century and describes the beginnings of the split between Muslims into Shiites and Sunnis in the battle of Karbala.

Shawky produced individual marionettes out of Murano glass, creating surreal beings- a combination of humans, unknown animals and extra-terrestrial creatures- all showing the grotesque brutality of war and aggression.  The film portrays this historical period as a mythical time blending religious gravitas and dramatic fantasy, while emphasizing the theatrical and staging component of writing history.  The spectator will be taken on a phantasmagorical journey losing the sense of time, not knowing if they are transported towards an ancient past or a far future.  


Even though the three films are seen as one monumental work, each one of them has its own signature aesthetics, speech, music, and scenography. “Cabaret Crusades: The Horror Show File” (2010), the first of the series, was shot with 200 year old Italian marionettes. Using realistic-looking spaces and three-dimensional architecture, the film tackles the period of 1096 to 1099, spanning four years of critical events that changed the core of the Arab World and its relation to the West. “Cabaret Crusades: The Path to Cairo” (2012) was made with ceramic marionettes handcrafted by the artist himself. This part covers the period between the 1st and 2nd Crusades (1099-1149) using a scenographic landscape collaged from Persian miniatures. The third and final chapter of the series “Cabaret Crusades: The Secrets of Karbala” (2015) was made with translucent glass marionettes, with a clay stage set providing the background for the narrative. 


The exhibition includes the film, its actors: the glass marionettes, drawing, and its scenery in a large-scale sculptural installation.


Wael Shawky (born in Alexandria 1971) studied fine art at the University of Alexandria before receiving his M.F.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 2000. His work has been showcased at major international exhibitions such as MoMA PS1, New York (2015); SALT, Istanbul (2014); Here & Elsewhere, The New Museum, New York (2014); Serpentine Gallery, London (2014); Re:emerge, Sharjah Biennial (2013); Documenta 13, Kassel (2012); 9th Gwangju Biennial, South Korea (2012); 12th International Istanbul Biennial (2011); and the upcoming 15th Istanbul Biennale (2015). Shawky has received many awards for his work, including the Sharjah Biennial Award 2013 for exceptional contribution; the “Award for the Filmic Oevre”  created by Louis Vuitton; Kino der Kunst, Munich (2013); Abraaj Capital Art Prize, Dubai, joint winner (2012); Kunstpreis Schering Stiftung, Berlin (2011); Grand Prize, 25th Alexandria Biennale (2009). In 2011, he was an artist in residence at The Center for Possible Studies, Serpentine Gallery, London. Wael Shawky lives and works in Alexandria, Egypt, and is the founder of MASS Alexandria, a studio program for young artists.






Cabaret Crusades: The Secrets of Karbala, 2015, Installation view







Cabaret Crusades: The Secrets of Karbala, 2015, HD video, sound, colour, 120 minutes








Cabaret Crusades: The Secrets of Karbala, Drawings, 2015, Oil pencil ink on cotton paper, 57 x 76 cm








Cabaret Crusades: The Secrets of Karbala, Marionettes, 2014, Murano glass, fabric, metal







Cabaret Crusades: The Secrets of Karbala, Static Marionettes, 2014, Murano glass, fabric, metal