Wael Shawky, b. 1971 Alexandria, Egypt, The Cave (Amsterdam) 12:45 min., 2005
In the media explanations the New Museum declares that “Here and Elsewhere” works against the notion of the Arab world as a homogenous or cohesive entity. After a whirlwind of art pieces on four full floors, I would agree. Among the many offerings of video installations crammed into the space, two pieces stood out in embodying the Jean Luc Godard reference the title of the show possesses. The two significantly play on the cinema verite style and blurring of reality as well as the transparent revealing of film techniques aka film-meta referencing that Godard would have utilized.
In The Cave (Amsterdam), Wael Shawky, reciting a long, uncut religious episode from the Qu’ran, is like self-reflexive documentary in the way he strolls in black tie and suit in a grocery store with European whites shopping in the background oblivious of this cultural drama. In Abdel Abidin’s reworking of songs commissioned by Sadaam Hussein, the polished sets of jazz club and glitzy studio space reimagines Hussein’s propaganda into three styles of Western songs. The female singer is sultry and commercially desirable and seduces the viewer into the trappings of the Western medium of music video. Sung in transliterated Iraqi by English speakers (who don’t comprehend the words), here we see a political underpinning indicative of French New Wave cinema and of exposing the constructed nature of film-making.
Abdel Abidin, Three Love Songs, Video, Color, Sound, 8:41 min, 2010