One of the most powerful and urgent voices to emerge from the Middle East in the last decade, Wael Shawky explores systems of belief and reinterprets faith, myth and history through the lens of the modern media. At Lisson Gallery, Shawky presents a
new work, Dictums: Manqia I (2014), in which herds of prize black camels are driven across the desert, perhaps en route to one of the prestigious camel parades or beauty pageants that are held in the Gulf region, known as mazaynas. Having previously worked with the indigenous cultures and traditions of nomadic Bedouin tribespeople, Shawky similarly charts patterns of physical, economic and intellectual migration in this video, shot by the artist on location near Abu Dhabi.
The overarching title of his exhibition, Dictums, refers to a live performance originally produced for the Sharjah Biennial in 2013 in which Shawky assembled 30 workers of primarily Pakistani origin, to clap and chant through a recital by two professional musicians or qawwals, trained in signing traditional Sufi ballads. The words to their song were culled from a curatorial statement of the biennial and translated into Urdu, creating a hypnotic, harmonic, if largely indecipherable, rendition of the kind of opaque artistic language generally associated with contemporary art discourse.
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