Nottingham Contemporary Presents Solo Shows by Huang Yong Ping and Wael Shawky

Nottingham Contemporary’s seventh exhibition consists of solo shows by Huang Yong Ping and Wael Shawky. On view through 26 June 2011.

Huang Yong Ping, Bat Project IV,” 2005. Photo: Walker art center, Minneapolis Courtesy Huang Yong Ping and Yu De Yao.

Huang, who has lived in Paris since 1989, is one of the leading Chinese artists of his generation. The centerpiece of his exhibition is Bat Project IV (2004–2005)—censored on two occasions in China—and shown here in Europe for the first time. The cockpit of a US EP-3 spy plane, its blasted windows hung with bats, merges with ‘fuselage’ made of bamboo and awning. The sculpture alludes to the diplomatic crisis following the collision of a Chinese fighter jet with a US surveillance plane.

Other major works include Marché de Punya (2007), a life-size elephant that appears dead in front of a Chinese market stall selling prayer offerings and household goods. Buddhist temples are often guarded by elephants—a sign of mental strength. Buddhism and the Old Testament merge in La Peche (2006), based on a medieval illustration, which shows an angel with a fishing rod trying to catch the Leviathan—the terrifying sea monster from the Book of Job. His line is baited with Buddhas and a Crucifix-cum-anchor.

Huang’s arresting and witty sculptures, often involving taxidermy and religious symbolism, allegorize the syncretism and mutation of cultures that results from contemporary globalization and the legacies of European colonialism.

Shawky’s concern with the politics of religion is focused more specifically on how Islam and the Arab world are viewed in the West. The two artists’ exhibitions converge in a single room given over to Huang’s Construction Site and Shawky’s Al Aqsa Park. The former is an aluminum sculpture of a minaret in the Ottoman style within a canvas enclosure, angled like a rocket launcher. It is an allusion to Hagia Sofia’s four minarets, added to what was once a Byzantine church. In Shawky’s animation the Dome of the Rock rises and rotates like a galactic carousel—an allusion, perhaps, to the endless cycle of the Israeli/Palestinian “peace process”.

Telematch Sadat (2007) is a re-staging of the assassination of President Anwar Sadat—the event which ushered in the dictatorship of the recently toppled Mubarak—performed by Bedouin children. Donkeys and carts stand in for armoured vehicles, and the desert substitutes for downtown Cairo. Shawky himself lives in Egypt’s second city, Alexandria.

The centerpiece of his exhibition is Cabaret Crusades: The Horror Show File (2010). Based on eyewitness accounts recorded by Arab historians, it is a re-telling of the first Crusade of 1096–1066, portrayed by a collection of 200-year-old puppets. The beauty and artificiality of the puppets makes the horrific episodes they narrate somewhat approachable, while also acknowledging the irrecoverable human dimensions of historical experience. The Crusades have of course assumed renewed political significance since 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, while also having a particular resonance in Nottingham, a city whose history and folklore has long been patriotically and Eurocentrically associated with the Crusades.

Nottingham Contemporary
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