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OUR COLUMNIST MIKE GIVES HIS OPINION ABOUT WAEL SHAWKY’S PUPPETS-CUM-ART AT THE SERPENTINE GALLERY:

‘I think this is a matter of context. Now, Shawky, as many artists in the Middle East are facing entrance into the Art Market at the expense of meaningful interaction with their intended audiences. I lived in the Middle East for fifteen years, so the issues he explores and even the format of puppets makes sense. Puppets in a vitrine, with three videos of questionable length in the Serpentine is an exercise in sales to those who don’t care about what is happening in Egypt, but only how they can profit off of this particular cultural product of Egypt.

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I could rise to the defence of Shawky by describing how the craft involved is reflective of Egypt, I could speak about Egypt’s lead in the region regarding cinema, andeven the puppets being controlled by outside forces is reflective of Egyptian politics and economics, which could be extended to the whole region, but that does not address the Serpentine’s riding the wave of the Arab Spring to put forth this disconnected exhibition.

The puppets seem to be collectables for those who enjoyed the films. Additionally, how does this exhibition claim to address these issues specific to the region that Shawky is obviously influenced by?

Take the Sistine Ceiling out of Rome and display it in Papau New Guinea, and it may be marvelled at due to the scale and skill, but its meaning will be at best watered down (in a condensed expert essay I am sure) or, most likely, it will be a meaningless entertainment that is “Wow! This is different”.

I am guessing that most who saw this show were amused by the different rather than motivated to explore and perhaps address Shawky’s motivating issues.
I may be entirely wrong though.’

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