Manual Stories from the Crusades

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Wael Shawky: The Crusades and Current Stories - Announcements - e-flux

We don't really know what the message was but can pretty safely guess that it asked them to travel to the East in order to "liberate" Jerusalem by force. Image after Illuminated manuscript.

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After the Christians conquered Jerusalem in CE, massacring many of the inhabitants, the task of understanding why they'd been successful and what it all meant fell to the historians. Histories about the journey to the East spread like wildfire, with a first wave written by people who seem to have been participants, then a second wave by monks in Europe. In other words, they were more interested in the overarching story than simply recording objective fact.

First Crusade

And they have struggled.. Libraries could be filled with works just in English! So, for those interested in learning more, just figuring out where to start can be overwhelming. There's a lot of bad information out there, many based more on modern politics the myth of a neverending war between Christianity and Islam than the real past.

The exhibition also includes a selection of the marionettes used in the films, large woodcuts, two of which were created especially for the exhibition at ARoS, drawings, photographs, collages and an entirely new, site-specific work unfurling through the museum foyer like a giant wall.

The narrative The overarching narrative of the exhibition takes its starting point in the political game for possession of Jerusalem and power over the Middle East that was played out during the period to These events would later be known as "the Crusades. The exhibition is highly relevant today, particularly because most of us probably have very simplified ideas about these historical events. These are very complex matters that prompt strong emotional responses. The issues here are not just about religious conflict, but also about high-stakes international politics, military influence and control.


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The puppets appearing in the films wear oriental clothes and knightly armour, and no-one is unequivocally good or evil. Shawky relates the story of the Crusades from an Arab point of view.


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Hence, all the characters speak Arabic. Wael Shawky takes a different approach in the large woodcuts, which he bases on old European oil paintings from the 16th and 19th centuries. At the same time, he calls attention to the fact that many of the paintings and other historical sources from the past are actually entirely or partially misleading.

The Crusades: A Documentary

Shawky takes a critical view of how historical events have been recounted. In his woodcuts and films alike, he often adds mythical elements to show us how historical accounts of the past are often untrue, distorted or blinkered cultural constructs.