The Crusaders are wearing Crochet!


Wael Shawky, Cabaret Crusades (2010-2015)

4000 years after their first use in Egypt, Alexandria based artist Wael Shawky has made marionettes a central part of his art practice. His work currently on exhibition at Mathaf, Doha, is presented as a spectacular film series that recounts the history of The Crusades from an Arab perspective. The films are based on literature and historical narratives, using a visual language that mixes fictional storytelling and documentary styles. 

More than 100 hand-blown glass marionettes in period dress (i.e. crochet!!!!) were made by the maestros in Venice, a city with its own minor role in the crusades. The marionettes who range from ethnic caricature to alien xenomorph is equally spooky and mesmerizing to look at. I struggled to peel myself away from the large vitrine of about 50 of these glass marionettes and drawings from Cabaret Crusades that set the stage for the six films screened across the ground floor galleries. This process of telling stories and fictionalizing history through these layers creates a new story of the fight for power that is still present today!

A quick search on the internet has left me empty handed in my quest to find out more about the crocheted items used in creating the marionettes. Today I will be taking a deep dive and see whether I am lucky enough to strike gold and hunt down the crochet artists who clothed the puppets.

According to Mathaf, the Arab museum for modern and comtemporary art: "His practice spanning video, drawing, and performance are in-depth productions about the way history and mythology are written, offering crucial perspectives on contemporary narratives of uncertainty and change. Shawky is a major artist of his generation, developing an original art vocabulary dealing with global aesthetic and political issues. His work is exhibited internationally, most recently in solo exhibitions at MoMA PS1, New York (2015); K20, Düsseldorf (2014); Serpentine Gallery, London (2013); KW Berlin (2012); and large scale group exhibitions including Sharjah Biennial (2013); and dOCUMENTA (13) (2012). His work is collected by public institutions such as MoMA, New York, MACBA, Barcelona, and Qatar Museums, Doha."

We are literally living in Art heaven here in Doha. Qatar not only established as the Arts hub of the Middle East, but the tiny country with massive pockets is regarded as the world's leading modern art collector. For more than twenty years, the Al-Thani family had been buying a large collection of art works, from traditional Islamic artifacts to famous pieces of modern and contemporary art and has spent at least $1 billion on Western painting and sculpture. Previous Head of International Modern Contemporary Arab and Iranian Art at Christie's, William Lawrie, said of the Al Thani's: “Qatar’s royal family are very much like modern-day equivalents of the Medicis in 16th-century Florence”.

Forbes describes the Emir's daughter, Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani “arguably the most powerful woman in the art world today” and ranked her one of the 100 most powerful women of the world in 2012. Art and Auction magazine ranked her number one for the art world’s most influential people.
Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani                                                                                                 Photo credit

The Qatar Museums authority is the lead body for museums in Qatar and in addition to providing a comprehensive organization for museum development, also aligned art museum programmes with the new Supreme Education Council Art Curriculum Standards. Art is a prominent topic in both international as well as local schools and as a parent i am not complaining!

Mathaf, Doha's museum for modern and contemporary art plays a special role in the creative life of Qatar. It is much more than a museum. It is a platform where contemporary artistic production and debate takes place, a showcase for new movements in the art world and a creative community where emerging talent can experiment, create and share projects with one another. 

One of the programmes is The Mathaf Voices a year-long internship program for university students from various academic majors where interns have the opportunity to learn about modern and contemporary art, build their research and communication skills, and lead exhibition tours for the public. 

Another annual programme that celebrates the creativity of students from kindergarten to secondary levels is the Mathaf Student Art Competition and Exhibition organized in partnership with University College London Qatar, Museum and Gallery Practice masters program students. The Teen submitted a winning entry and her work is currently on display until the end of May!!!  

What are you up to? I am nursing a (hell it is painful!) shoulder injury, so not much crocheting is happening here at the Pigtails Palace at the moment.


  1. impressive work!!!! Never seen/heard something like that !!!!!
    Congratulations to your teen and take care, xxxxxx Ale

    1. Thanks Ale, I have to say I find puppets creeeepy, but can appreciate the craft of making them and the art of playing them!

  2. Stunning !!! I just can't stop scrolling up and down to look at the photos of those marionettes !!

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