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Alexandrian Artist Wael Shawky Holds Venice Biennale Solo Exhibition

Wael Shawky will present a film, ‘Drama 1882’, that explores a chapter of the Urabi Revolt in the form of a musical.

Catherine Johnson

Alexandrian Artist Wael Shawky Holds Venice Biennale Solo Exhibition

Alexandrian artist Wael Shawky is bringing a slice of Egyptian history to the Venice Biennale. His solo exhibition, like the majority of Shawky’s work, explores historical events through contemporary culture, inviting audiences to reconsider what they know about the world. Titled ‘Drama 1882’, this film tells the story of the Urabi Revolt as a musical.

The Urabi Revolt was a nationalist uprising in which peasant-born military officer Ahmed Urabi fought to depose Egypt’s ruler, Khedive Tewfik Pasha, and end the increasing influence Britain and France exerted over the country. This revolt lasted from 1879 until 1882, and ended in the British seizing control of Egypt. In the final year of this unrest, riots spread across Alexandria that killed 250 Egyptians and 50 Europeans. The circumstances that led to this spate of violence is something of a historical mystery; it is believed that the violence in Alexandria was set off after an argument between a Maltese man and an Egyptian donkey boy over the fare of a donkey ride.

Shawky’s film explores the uncertainty of this time by weaving together fact, fable and fiction. A cast and crew of nearly 400 people are featured in this production, which was shot in an historic open-air theatre in Alexandria throughout the winter. The subject of this film makes it perfect for the 2024 Venice Biennale’s theme, ‘Foreigners Everywhere’.

In addition to his exhibit at the Venice Biennale, Shawky will also be presenting a solo exhibition, called ‘I Am Hymns of The New Temples’ at Venice’s Museo Palazzo Grimani. This exhibit opens on April 17th, and will run alongside the Venice Biennale. This cinematic piece explores the mythology of Pompeii, raising discussions about cultural and national identity. This film uses marionettes and masks to tell this historic story, and was commissioned by the Archaeological Park of Pompeii. In 2020, it won an award from the Piano per l’Arte Contemporanea.

Wael Shawky is no stranger to the biennial circuit, having shown his work at the Lahore Biennale (2020), the Istanbul Biennale (2015), the Sharjah Biennale (2013), among others. He is also the founder of Mass Alexandria, an art school and performance space.

His solo exhibition at the Venice Biennale, ‘Drama 1882’, will be exhibited at the Egyptian Pavilion in the Giardini for the Venice Biennale from April 20th to November 24th. His exhibit at Museo Palazzo Grimani, ‘I Am Hymns of The New Temples’, will run from April 17th to June 30th. His work can also be seen in Venice’s Palazzo Franchetti from April 19th to November 24th as part of ‘Your Ghosts Are Mine: Expanded Cinemas, Amplified Voices’, an exhibit organised by Qatar Museums.

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