Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art is pleased to present an exhibition of work by Wael Shawky, in both the Factory and first-floor gallery spaces. This will be the artist’s first solo show in Cairo since 2006.
These recent videos and drawings reveal Shawky’s continuing investigation into how cultures contrast and combine. Through strategies such as storytelling, performance, and reenactment, often making use of child actors, Bedouin landscapes, or featuring the artist himself, Shawky distills complex sociocultural issues into arresting images and narratives. At once playful and multilayered, his works are symbolic explorations of contemporary Egypt and beyond.
Darb El Arbaeen (Forty Days’ Road), 2007, a four-channel video projection installed in the Factory, juxtaposes nomadic and agricultural ways of life. The road of the title, an ancient trade route through the desert that links Egypt and Sudan, is here traveled by a man and his water buffalo, who have left their village in search of a well. While the farmer and the Bedouin are traditionally seen in opposition, and agricultural society as more “advanced,” the video shows how they draw strength from each other. Darb El Arbaeen was previously exhibited at Kunsthalle Winterthur, Switzerland, and at Bunkier Sztuki, Krakow, Poland.
Telematch Suburb, 2008, on view in the first-floor gallery, is the fourth video in the “Telematch” series (which also includes Telematch Upper Egypt, Telematch Sadat, and Telematch Market). Named after a 1970s German television in which inhabitants of different German towns competed against each other, the series examines issues of sex, class, politics, and generational divides in Egypt from the ’70s until today. Telematch Suburb plays on the performativity of culture, as residents in a rural area in Egypt’s Western Desert watch a heavy-metal concert in the middle of their village. The video was commissioned for the 2008 SITE Santa Fe Biennial in New Mexico, and Shawky originally planned to film a Native American dance, the kind often put on for tourists in the southwestern United States. When the biennial organizers objected, citing local sensitivities, the artist moved his site to Egypt, and reversed the roles: Now the “modern” entertains the “traditional”—and the latter is distinctly unimpressed.
Also on view in the gallery is a set of drawings that accompanied Telematch Suburb as part of a larger installation in the Santa Fe Biennial. The drawings were inspired by a visit to Santa Fe’s Museum of International Folk Art, where Shawky was struck by how the region’s hybrid history is retold. In the museum displays—nowhere more apparent than in the large toy collection—Native American and Spanish identities are condensed into simple, readable forms.
Wael Shawky (b. 1971, Alexandria; lives and works in Alexandria)
Recent exhibitions include “The columns held us up,” Artists Space, New York (2009); “Larvae Channel 2,” Project Gentili, Berlin (2009); “Medium Religion,” ZKM Karlsruhe (2008); SITE Sante Fe Biennial, New Mexico (2008); Home Works IV, Agial Gallery, Beirut (2008); Meeting Points 5 (multiple locations, 2007); “In Focus,” Contemporary Art Platform and Tate Modern, London (2007); 2nd Moscow Biennial (2007); “Drawings,” Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art, Cairo (2006); and the 9th International Istanbul Biennial (2005). He received an MFA from the University of Pennsylvania (2000) and a BFA from Alexandria University (1994).