New York

View of “Wael Shawky,” 2019. Background: The Gulf Project Camp: Carved wood (after ‘Nighttime in a City’ by Mir Sayyid Ali, c.1540), 2019. Foreground, from left: The Gulf Project Camp: Glass Sculpture # 1, 2019; The Gulf Project Camp: Sculpture # 5, 2019.

View of “Wael Shawky,” 2019. Background: The Gulf Project Camp: Carved wood (after ‘Nighttime in a City’ by Mir Sayyid Ali, c.1540), 2019. Foreground, from left: The Gulf Project Camp: Glass Sculpture # 1, 2019; The Gulf Project Camp: Sculpture # 5, 2019.

Wael Shawky

Lisson Gallery

The sensuous impact of Wael Shawky’s exhibition “The Gulf Project Camp” at Lisson Gallery was stunning, immediate. Soaring walls glistened, slicked with a pearly pink that offset the poisonously fulgent cyan of a crumbly, crenellated gypsum structure zigzagging to nowhere in the middle of the room. Then we noticed the scent—a deeply historical aroma that emanated from five grand reliefs exquisitely crafted out of hefty timber planks that were between four hundred and two thousand years old. The gallery told me the ancient cellulose was obtained from a company in Mestre, Italy, known for its vast resources, but I wondered if the wood was truly that old or if I was falling for a bit of mythmaking—which would be in keeping with the program of Shawky’s “Gulf Project Camp” series, with its encrypted allusions to the history of the Arab peninsula commingled with layers of fantasy.

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