Puppets. Not something I’d normally be fascinated by, but the marionettes Wael Shawky uses to populate his complex historical videos are fantastical, gorgeous works of art in themselves. “Cabaret Crusades” at MoMA PS1 presents the artist’s trilogy of videos that recount the history of the Crusades from an Arab perspective and in addition displays the numerous puppets themselves. The glass puppets in his most recent video especially move in a particular, haunting way and make a kind of clicking sound. Never do you forget that you are watching a performance in the face of such clear artifice, but the enigmatic faces of these human representatives, aided in part by soulful singing, bring distant history into the realm of pathos.
I happily spent a few hours watching these tales of conflict unfold, and it is not difficult to see parallels in contemporary instances of cultural differences, mistrust, violence, and greed. Puppets and pathos–maybe not what you might expect from a retelling of the Crusades, but well worth an afternoon. On view through August 31st.