The Cave, 2004 - 2006
The Cave is a surah in the Qur'an containing more than seven different stories, which share the theme of the special relationship between knowledge and power. The central story is called "The Seven Sleepers," a story that is part of the Christian tradition, with slight variances in numbers. According to Islamic tradition, seven religious villagers ("people of the cave") are plotting to escape from their disbelieving clansmen in the village. When their clansmen discover this plot, they resolve to kill the group of young men, and the men their dog seek refuge in a cave, praying to God for help and mercy. To protect them, God puts them to sleep for 309 years (in the Christian version it is about 210 years). They are woken up to find vast changes in the world, most significantly that Christianity has emerged. When the people of the newly-Christian village hear their story, the miracle inspires many more people to believe in God and his works. The seven sleepers themselves did not stay alive long afterwards, for the mIn purpose of their re-emergence is to prove God's power over mankind and his ability to bringing them to life after death.
According to more of the Islamic scholars, the purpose of revelation for "The Cave" surah is to celebrate the migration from Mecca to Medina in order to gain more power and knowledge. Shawky's choice to memorize and recite this chapter in a supermarket - the space being an evident metaphor for new capitalism - is a commentary on hybrid cultures. The audience may initially consider the 12-minute film as a sociological translation of self-portrait, but it is more importantly a meeting point of two systems that have nothing to do with each other on the surface, a supermarket and a recitation that does in fact exist between the two, It is a relationship based on power and knowledge, further augmented by the audience's inability to gauge the performer's political or ideological position. In that sense Shawky's memorization and delivery of the text mimics a news report: the neutrality enhances the gap between the two systems. Concurrently the speech acts as a protagonist in opposition to the dominance of Western media.