This article considers Wael Shawky’s The Song of Roland: The Arabic Version as a key work in the artist’s ongoing investigation of the mechanisms of stereotypical racial and cultural othering from a historical perspective and an Arab point of view. Shawky translates La Chanson de Roland, one of the earliest major works of French literature, into Classical Arabic and stages it as an hour-long performance with a fidjeri ensemble singing pearl diving music from the Gulf. Drawing on Brechtian methods of de-dramatization and alienation, this article approaches Shawky’s musical performance as an alien and alienating form of storytelling that questions current debates on nationalism, imperialism, labour, and cultural heritage. At the same time, it develops the concept of anachronism as a key dramaturgical principle that unmakes canonical views of history and colonial interpretations of the relationship between Christianity and Islam. Through a detailed analysis of this musical performance, as well as of the cultural traditions, myths, and historical accounts that shape its dramaturgy, this article explores prevailing concepts of historical representation and collective memory in contexts within and beyond the art world.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Visual Arts and Performing Arts