Lisson Gallery

Wael Shawky: 'Drama 1882' at La Biennale di Venezia 2024

5 June 2024

A natural storyteller, Wael Shawky takes historiographical and literary references as starting points for his concentrated narratives, in which he interweaves fable, fact and fiction. Tackling notions of national, religious and artistic identity through film, performance, painting and sculpture, based on extensive periods of research and enquiry, Shawky frames contemporary culture through the lens of historical tradition and vice versa.

For the Egyptian Pavilion, Shawky has created Drama 1882, a filmed rendition of an original musical play directed, choreographed, and composed by the artist, around Egypt’s nationalist Urabi revolution against imperial influence (1879-82). The year 1882 was when this revolt was crushed by the British, who then went on to occupy Egypt until 1956.

In part inspired by the Biennale Arte 2024 theme 'Foreigners Everywhere', Shawky said:

There was a revolt led by the Egyptian Colonel Ahmed Urabi and his army against the Egyptian monarch, calling him a traitor because he fell prey to the British and French. The interesting thing about this discourse is the idea of the foreigners – what does it mean to be ‘foreigners’? Who were they? They were the occupiers – it was not the idea of immigrants that we have today.

Sung in classical Arabic by professional performers, the work marks a departure for Shawky:

Normally I insisted on erasing drama from my previous films, so I opted for puppets, marionettes, and children. This time drama has several meanings: There is the sense of make-believe, connected to the idea of having a show, like theatre. There is no theatrical performance in ‘Drama 1882’. The background is moving in slow motion, as if in layers. In the end this makes the work like a moving painting, with the performers and soundtrack being elements in this composition. The word ‘drama’ has many implications: it conjures a sense of entertainment, the sense of catastrophe and our inherent doubt in history.

The film is accompanied by vitrines, sculpture, paintings, drawings and a mirror relief made in Murano.

Explore the project further here.

Film by Laura Bushell.

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