Wael Shawky @ Lisson


Camels. In the west they are associated with Egypt. We think of camels as magical creatures that can go days without drinking water, used as arabian horses. I automatically think of camels being used to trek through deserts with heavy loads on their humped backs. Wael Shawky however, shows the mysterious animals in a different light at the Lisson Gallery.

The opening to Shawky’s Dictum exhibition at Lisson does not begin with a video of the performance of the same name at the 2013 Sharjah Biennial (although we do get to see this later), but drawings of camels. These pencil drawings have been altered so that inside the animals outlines are drawings of civilisations, sometimes the camels humps are transformed into buildings or houses. Shawky’s camels are morphed into ethereal mythological creatures, and coloured with pale inks with marks that appear like fingerprints, in iridescent colours which resemble nail polish.

As we move through the gallery a large film projection shows prize black camels walking across the desert. These camels are likely to be entered into pageants across Arabia and are well sought after, much like a thoroughbred racehorse is to many of us.

From around the corner of the gallery eastern music can be heard which guides the viewer to a room that has been filled with aluminium decoration which strongly resembles silver filigree. These traditional motifs have been presented alongside a film of last years Dictum performance which is comprised of 30 workers of mostly Pakistani background making music and chanting together. The film is fitting as the Biennial was titled ‘Re:emerge – Towards a New Cultural Cartography’, questioning global mapping and identity, there are many Pakistani migrants in the Middle East.

For anyone who previously visited the Shawky exhibition at the Serpentine this is a must. Shawky gives an insight into the arab world that we don’t expect and is truly captivating every time.

Dictums is on display at Lisson Gallery until 8 March

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer with a special interest in contemporary Middle Eastern Art. She has a BA in Art History and an MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa from the School of Oriental and African Studies. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and also writes for After Nyne, Ibraaz and Reorient.

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