Dictums 10:120 is a multipart project that involves the composition and performance of a qawwali song. Comprised of fragments from curatorial talks translated into Urdu, the song turns this centuries-old tradition of devotional Sufi music into a contemporary art experiment. Taking Sharjah as a starting point, the project examines the relationship between art organisations and their local communities.
Wael Shawky began the project during the Witness Programme, an artists' residency at Sharjah Biennial 10. Throughout a series of workshops, members of Sharjah Art Foundation's production and technical team, most of whom are Pakistani, took apart the Biennial's rhetoric in order to construct a song. The various forms of literal and theoretical translations to which the texts were subjected - from the spoken to the textual to the lyrical, from English to Urdu, from artspeak to absurd fragment -produced an analytical process that tests the authority of the language used to communicate the Biennial's raison d'être.
In a move that highlights the historic exchange of labour and culture between the Gulf region and South Asia, Shawky travelled to Karachi, in Pakistan, to record the song with renowned qawwals Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad. During the opening week of Sharjah Biennial 11, the two qawwals, along with thirty additional men, performed the song in an alleyway outside the exhibition halls; a trace of their presence remains as an audio track that plays in the space throughout the duration of the Biennial.
Intrigued by the possibility of role reversal, Shawky challenges the boundaries and expectations imposed by hierarchies that exist within the institution and society at large. By inserting the religious musical tradition of qawwali into a contemporary art framework, he playfully questions the legitimising power of the institution by comparing the oblique and mystified language of contemporary art with mystic poetry.
>> Video of the performance
presented at Sharjah Biennial 11, March 2013
* 1971 Alexandria, Egypt; lives there.
Wael Shawky uses a range of media to produce work that explores issues of history, religion, culture and the effects of globalisation on society today. In photographs, installations, videos and performances, he mines traditions of entertainment and performance through multilayered historical reconstructions that force viewers to navigate the territory of truth, myth, stereotype and cliche. Among his works are retellings of the Crusades enacted by marionettes (Cabaret Crusades: The Horror Show File, 2010 and Cabaret Crusades: The Path to Cairo, 2012) and a restaging of the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat performed by children (Telematch Sadat, 2007).
Shawky has had solo exhibitions at KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, Germany (2012); Nottingham Contemporary, UK (2011); Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, UK (2011); and Cittadellarte-Fondazione Pistoletto, Biella, Italy 12010), among other venues. Recent group presentations include Documenta 13, Kassel, Germany (2012), and the Istanbul Biennial, Turkey (2011). In 2011, he received the Schering Foundation Art Award and the Abraaj Capital Art Prize. He founded the educational space MASS Alexandria in 2010.
Dictums 10:120, 2011-13
Live installation with thirty-two performers, microphones, wooden platform, cushions and sound system
Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation
Presented at Sharjah Biennial 11
13 March - 13 May 2013
United Arab Emirates
One of the seven Sharjah Biennial 11 Prizes