Wael Shawky featured on the cover of Canvas Magazine's January - February 2023 issue
7 February 2023
The January - February 2023 issue of Canvas Magazine, ‘Making Their Mark’, explores the complexities of mark-making through drawing, calligraphy, mapping and beyond as artists express intentional thoughts, information, values or the subconscious mind. The cover features Wael Shawky’s ‘The Gulf Project Camp: Drawing #1’ (2019) as an expression on paper that explores historical narratives through imagery. The issue also features an in-depth feature on Shawky by Alexandra Chaves.
Wael Shawky doesn’t trust history. In fact, he has said he doesn’t believe in it. His work, spanning film, painting and sculpture, is known for dissecting not so much the documentation of history but its narrative fabrications, the interlacing of myth and fact in stories woven by nation states and those with power and influence. “I always say that my fascination is in analysing societies in transition,” he says. He ascribes this interest to his childhood in Mecca during Saudi Arabia’s 1970s oil boom. Although he was born in Alexandria, he spent his younger years flitting between Egypt and Saudi, where he witnessed the seismic shift in the latter’s economy and society. “This was the time of the Bedouin man driving a Cadillac,” he recalls.
I caught up with the artist as he was triangulating the cities of Alexandria (where he is working in his studio on post-production for a new film, I Am Hymns of the New Temples, 2023), Jeddah (for his participation in the first Islamic Arts Biennale), and Dubai (a transit hub he sometimes visits with family and where we meet). The artist recalls Mecca as “rough, even sometimes aggressive”, where a tribal culture at times chafed against the “new capitalism of America”. In parallel, the holy city was uniquely cosmopolitan, with pilgrims from around the world gathering, many setting down roots illegally. Putting his drawing skills to use at a young age, Shawky became the go-to artist as a student: “I think I was responsible for all the drawings at the school. This is weird, but it’s real – as a kid, I thought all Egyptians knew how to draw. Because I was the only Egyptian in school!” he laughs. He returned to Alexandria as a teenager, a “terrible phase”, as he puts it, filled with “crazy, stupid fun” that almost derailed his artistic career path. Eventually, with a push from his mother, he enrolled into the fine arts programme at Alexandria University and never looked back. Trained as a painter, he ventured into film while pursuing his MFA at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he has another studio.
Shawky’s works have been exhibited at the KW Institute, Serpentine Galleries, Tate Modern, MoMA PS1, Sharjah Art Foundation, Mathaf, M Leuven and Castello di Rivoli, among others. He has also participated in the Venice Biennale, Sharjah Biennial, documenta, Istanbul Biennial and Desert X AlUla. Across his practice, he scrutinises what he calls the “dream of development” that he sees as pervasive in societies. “It is a dream to be higher, in money, in social class, and even in going to heaven. We all experience it. It’s not greed. It’s desire.” This dream or desire becomes the driving force for war and expansion, for transformations from nomadic and agrarian societies to industrial and urban ones. At the same time, the artist questions how conflict and change are remembered and retold, embedded in memories and identities.
Visit read.canvasonline.com to order your copy and read the full feature.
Wael Shawky is a featured artist in the innaugural Islamic Arts Biennale in Saudia Arabia, on view through 23 April. Find our more via The Islamic Arts Biennale.