One of the most powerful and urgent voices to emerge from the Middle East in the last decade, Wael Shawky explores systems of belief and reinter prets faith, my thand history through the lens of the modern media. At Lisson Gallery, Shawky presents a new work, Dictums: Manqia I(2014), in which herds of prize black camels are driven across the desert, perhaps en route to one of the prestigious camel paradesor beauty page ants that are held in the Gulfregion, known as mazaynas. These are, dark breeds of camel are coveted across the Arab world, with those winning ‘best in show’ often being traded for astronomical sumsandeven appearing on their own dedicated television channels. Having previously worked with the indigenous cultures and traditions of nomadic Bedouin tribes people, Shawky similarly charts patterns of physical, economican dintellectual migration in this video, shot by the artist on location near Abu Dhabi.
The over arching title of his exhibition, Dictums, refers to a live performance originally produced for the Sharjah Biennial in 2013 in which Shawky assembled 30 workers of primarily Pakistani origin, to clap and chant through a recital by two Professional musicians or qawwals, trained in signing traditional Sufi ballads. The words to their song were culled from a curatorial statement of the biennial and translated into Urdu, creating a hypnotic, harmonic, if largely indecipherable, rendition of the kind of opaque artistic language generally associated with contemporary art discourse. As with all of Shawky’s films, this piece combines astute observation of its subject matter with a keen sense of institutional critique.