Wael Shawky, Larvae Channel, 2008.

Solo show by the Alexandria-based artist Wael Shawky.

In his recent work, Wael deals with the dichotomies and contradictions of social norms, primarily relating to culture and religion. The Larvae Channel series explores a variety of issues that are rooted in local concerns, yet have profound international relevance. Shown together for the first time ever, the two videos consider marginalisation, cultural hybridisation, migration and modernisation as platforms for self-perception.

About the works

Larvae Channel (2008) two video-channel installation, 14 minutes.

Presented courtesy of the artist and the Artist Pension Trust (Dubai).

Larvae Channel (2008) comprises two screens playing simultaneously which focuses on pockets of communities and local industries in the lesser known Egyptian cities of Damietta and Ras al Bar, Lake Mariut, and Darb el-Arbain, a long desert road. Shot over a period of six months, the footage echoes that of a television format using both handheld and fixed camera positions. Larvae Channel was intended as a social experiment to illustrate how people respond to the presence of a camera, which Shawky has investigated in earlier works such as Green Land Circus (2005). Although participants were not given any prompts or particular topics to discuss, they each seize the opportunity to voice their frustrations specifically about the government and the wider impact of a system that is not working to everyone’s benefit. The occasional overlapping sound from the two videos adds a sense of urgency, while the artist and his camera have been transformed into some kind of messenger, with the hope that their concerns may be heard and their livelihoods improved.

Larvae Channel 2 (2009) video animation, 10 minutes.

Larvae Channel 2 is based on a video of an elderly couple in Souf Palestinian refugee camp near Amman, Jordan, using a similar open-ended discussion format to Larvae Channel. Applying rotroscope animation technique, every live-action movement was meticulously traced frame-by-frame. This highly laborious process mirrors the perception of daily life in the camp and the hardships raised by the couple, and at the same time, it renders all of the marginal – and usually unnoticed – details in the original footage as essential elements in the composition of the video animation. Larvae Channel 2 is a complex translation of human concerns and conditions; with the couple adopting a nationalistic language, borrowed from the media, they position themselves in an ongoing narrative of struggle.

The Knowledge

Wael Shawky’s exhibition forms part of The Knowledge series, an ongoing programme at Delfina Foundation. Taking its title from London’s famous black cab drivers’ training, The Knowledge is a journey through visual culture from the Middle East & North Africa, one city at a time. Previous ‘stops’ of The Knowledge have included Damascus (2009) and Tehran (2010).

The Knowledge – Stop 3: Alexandria is presented as part of Shubbak: A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture, a festival presented by the Mayor of London. Sponsored by HSBC. London’s first ever celebration of contemporary culture from across the Arab world. Shubbak will feature more than 70 events in over 30 key cultural venues across the capital, covering visual arts, film, music, theatre, dance, literature, architecture, lectures and discussion. More information on Shubbak here.