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Cabaret Crusades: The Path to Cairo

18 — 27 May 2017

The Path to Cairo is the second part in a trilogy documenting the Crusades as documented in Arab sources. This segment, documenting the events between the first and second Crusades, blends puppetry and musical theatre.

Cabaret Crusades is a trilogy of videos dealing with the history of the Crusades. The screenplay is based on an essay by Lebanese author Amin Maalouf, The Crusades through Arab Eyes (1983), which draws from Arab historical sources to subvert the traditional Western reading of the Medieval religious wars. Wael Shawky reenacts these bloody events through marionettes, transforming the historical reconstruction into a form of entertainment, as the title of the series explicitly suggests.

The second chapter of the trilogy, The Path to Cairo (2012), produced by Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo for dOCUMENTA (13), recounts the events that happened between the first and the second Crusade, between 1099 and 1145, and is structured as a musical. In this case, Shawky collaborated with potters and Provençal santonnier makers to create the ceramic marionettes that comprise the cast, and with choirs of fishermen and children from Bahrein for the musical performances.

In Shawky’s work, the evident artificiality and the taste for a blatant, emphatic theatrical style are functional to a reflection on the ways in which History is written and passed down. It is not so much a question of authenticity as of perspective, of acknowledging multiple viewpoints, an attitude that Shawky carries to extremes by turning the written historical account into images, thereby shifting from the academic register to that of spectacle.