Wael Shawky is an interdisciplinary artist who focuses on the creation of art forms through research, history and education. Although trained as a painter, his work transcends this medium, incorporating filmmaking, performance and research in order to interrogate history, politics and ideology. Through the fusion of ideas and disciplines, Shawky suggests a new method for looking at social and historical narratives. Questioning both documentary and linear approaches to history, he examines written history in order to highlight methodological or narrative inconsistencies, generating new critiques and interpretations in their wake. Shawky often draws his influences from a mix of ancient, modern and contemporary literature, which he contextualizes in order to reflect on current issues, whether directly or indirectly, situating episodes from the historical past in the present time.
Cabaret Crusades: The Secrets of Karbala covers the second, third and fourth Crusades — from 1146 to 1204 — and is the third and final film of the trilogy Cabaret Crusades. Using Amin Maalouf’s book The Crusades through Arab Eyes (1983) as his guide, along with older sources, in Shawky’s adaptation fiction and facts dissolve into a plot at once historical and contemporary, underscoring the fight for power by re-narrating significant events that took place during the Crusades. Collaborating with puppet makers, performers and musicians, Shawky reenacts a historical chapter from the Crusades to emphasize the fragility of bodies and their power of destruction. For this film, the artist designed and produced hand blown glass marionettes in Murano, Venice, thus referencing the strategic role that city played in the Crusades. Cabaret Crusades: The Secrets of Karbala addresses current affairs by taking its audience back in time, uncovering latent stories and preparing us for the possibility of a different future.