Cabaret Crusades: The Horror Show File (2010)
Since 2010, Wael Shawky has embarked on an ambitious project chronicling the events of the Crusades. The project, titled Cabaret Crusades, takes the form of a video installation divided into three chapters each describing specific scenes and happenings of these destructive religious wars, and each with meticulously crafted characters, music, scenography, and speech. What is inherently unique to these videos is the visualization of the characters. In all three chapters, Shawky has used handcrafted marionettes to tell the stories of the aggressors and victims of the Medieval religious strife.
Puppetry is one of the earliest forms of performance, and has taken various roles from portraying theatrical masterpieces to a children’s toy. The stoical and disinterested nature of the figurines enables Shawky to objectively narrate the events of the Crusades. The use of marionettes further emphasizes the notions of control and manipulation seen during times of war.
Each film uses particular marionettes, scenery, music and poetry relevant to the plot. The first chapter, Cabaret Crusades: The Horror Show File, describes the first 4 years of the crusades when the church was rallying leaders and armies to the holy land. As it is mostly set in historical Europe, Shawky animated the film using 200-year-old antique marionettes from the Lupi collection. The speech and plat derived from historical references on the wars, specifically Amine Maalouf’s “The Crusades through Arab Eyes”. While the second chapter of the project, Cabaret Crusades: Path to Cairo, is mostly set in Islamic cities, therefore the marionettes where hand crafted by the artist out of ceramic, which is traditionally seen in region for votive statues and icons, and the scenography is inspired by Islamic illuminations and miniatures.