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1971, Alexandria. Lives in Cairo.

In 2004 Shawky spent six months in İstanbul on Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Center’s İstanbul Residency Program (IRP). During this time he produced Cave, a video work featuring him walking around a local supermarket reciting sections of the Koran. At first glance, the video appears much like a news broadcast, as Shawky walks between the aisles talking directly to the camera, occasionally touching a shelf as he passes, or toying with an item of fruit. Whereas he is in fact delivering from memory a passage in the Koran and his focus and faultless flow of verse result from years spent as a child learning it.
The title Cave, refers to the story of the Cave of the seven sleepers. Originally a Greek legend, the tale can be found in the Latin work of Gregory of Tours and in many religious writings. Shawky recites the Surah that contains this narrative of seven men who lived in the city of Ephesus in Turkey around 250AD and took refuge from persecution by hiding in a cave. The sleepers awoke to find that they had slept for 200 years and that Christianity had become the dominant faith of the empire.
The subtitles that run across the image, do so at such a pace that rather than offer translation, they support the belief that there is indeed no substitute for the original written language of the Koran, namely Arabic. Yet, in his real-time performance Shawky manages to collapse the hierarchy of religion and language. He delivers the Surah with such authority that, despite the oddness of the event, not one of the supermarket’s shoppers bat an eyelid in his direction. The story of the seven sleepers bridges religion and culture, acting as a metaphor to describe the speed of capitalism (represented here by the supermarket), and its isolating effect on the individual.

November Paynter


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