Pompeii in an Egyptian film, Shawky stages the encounter between cultures

A film on Pompeii seen from the Arab world. “I Am Hymns of the New Temples” by Egyptian artist Wael Shawky arrives in Pompeii. At the end of the production started in the winter of 2020-2021, the new film by the Egyptian artist Wael Shawky (Alexandria, 1971) I Am Hymns of the New Temples was sent and delivered to the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, together with two unpublished works on paper and a sculptural work with the form and function of an ancient theatrical mask, used among the scenographic and choreographic elements of the film.

The work will have its international preview at the Pompeii Archaeological Park in early 2023.

The production of the work – winner of the PAC tender – Plan for Contemporary Art 2020 promoted and supported by the Directorate General for Contemporary Creativity – is the result of the collaboration between the Ministry of Culture and the Pompeii Archaeological Park in the context of the Pompeii Commitment. Archaeological materials, the first long-term project dedicated by the Park to contemporary arts and cultures co-designed by Massimo Osanna and Andrea Viliani, co-curated by the latter with Stella Bottai, Laura Mariano and Caterina Avataneo, with Sole Project Manager Silvia Martina Bertesago, archaeologist official of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, and the scientific and organizational support of Anna Civale.

Shot in the summer of 2022 in the ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii hit by the eruption of the Vesuvius volcano in 79 AD, Shawky’s new filmic work shows what emerges on the thresholds between the different cultures, both ancient and contemporary, which make the Mediterranean is a real theater in which different narratives and myths overlap. Basing his extensive narration on rigorous archival research, Shawky reenacts the even contradictory stratifications of history, representing the genesis of a plurality of ancient legendary tales through the multiple and further versions that, of the same tale, can be traced on the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea.

Already a source of wonder for the modern Western Grand Tour and the subject of continuous discoveries between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Pompeian archaeological remains bear witness to the articulated intertwining and complex configuration of Mediterranean cultures/natures. Ancient Pompeii, site of intense commercial exchanges, in fact housed not only temples connected to the Greco-Roman religion but also to Egyptian cults (the Temple of Isis was unearthed at the beginning of the Grand Tour with its stuccos, statues, frescoes and furnishings) and to the mystery rites of Mithras, Cybele, Attis, bearing innumerable traces of iconographies that are in themselves syncretic, testified by the archaeological areas used as sets, including Praedia di Giulia Felice, Casa del Frutteto, Odeion, temple of Vespasiano (Genius Augusti), Temple of Isis, Necropolis of Porta Nocera, Basilica.

Shawky thus offers a hypothetical reading of the ancient myths of divinities, fictitious characters or real historical figures, embodied in the porous whole of temples, sculptures, frescoes, mosaics but also Pompeian landscapes in constant transformation. Combining imaginative beings and human beings, plants and animals in his fantastic and multi-species representation, Shawky understands Pompeii as a multiverse of narrative and historical potential and as both a cultural and natural ecosystem open to metamorphosis and interpretation.

In his works – in which film, drawing, sculpture, installation, performance and theater direction are articulated – Shawky shows us the need to assume a position of awareness towards the mechanisms, ancient and contemporary, which guide interpretation and therefore the transmission historical, social and cultural facts. Narrator of processes of change and cognitive states suspended between the documentable and the imaginable, Shawky explores the ways in which both reality and fiction have been written and continue to be told, overlapping each other in an inextricable way. His narratives – the result of long periods of research on historical and literary sources – therefore cross time and space to evoke a dimension that is both factual and fantastic, as if understanding him were still ongoing.

The new film I Am Hymns of the New Temples represents the culmination of the artist’s research between art and cinema, which began with the previous film trilogies Cabaret Crusades (2010-2015) and Al Arab Al Madfuna (2012-2016). In them Shawky had already reconnected events and characters of the Egyptian and Middle Eastern tradition with a contemporaneity shaken by apparently irresolvable contrasts, retelling the events of the Crusades from an Arab historiographical perspective, and using puppets instead of historical characters, or entrusting children disguised as adults the tale of the ancient traditions of the Al Araba Al Madfuna village near Abydos (ancient capital of a pharaonic kingdom of Upper Egypt). In this way Shawky remodels historical events bringing out ancestral spiritual dynamics, writing that History that only the fable can, perhaps, restore to us in its contradictory truth and irredeemable humanity: as the artist himself affirms, his desire in realizing his film works is that they are “precise enough in detail that they can appear to actually exist, somewhere”.

I Am Hymns of the New Temples represents the first work produced in the context of the Pompeii Commitment project. Archaeological materials, a platform dedicated to the formation of the contemporary art collection of the Pompeii Archaeological Park, the first archaeological site in the world to have a long-term program and a collection dedicated to enhancing and disseminating the contemporaneity of the themes and values ​​expressed by the Italian and international archaeological heritage, starting from the Mediterranean one which today corresponds to the modern borders between Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Greece, Italy, France and Spain.
As Gabriel Zuchtriegel, Director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii recalls: “true archeology is always looking at the ancient with new eyes that we already think we know. This is why the Archaeological Park of Pompeii believes so strongly in the value of the dialogue between archeology and contemporary art, a dialogue capable of listening to common stories, bringing the geographical and chronological terms of a story closer together, in which telling the ancient simply means telling the contemporary to us”.


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13-12-2022 10:01:00 © REPRODUCTION RESERVED

Pompeii in an Egyptian film, Shawky stages the encounter between cultures – The presentation at the beginning of 2023