Cabaret Crusades - The Secrets of Karbala

Wael Shawky

We walked over the bridge and found the Kucuk Mustafa Pasa Hammam after a wrong turn or two. One of the oldest buildings in the Islamic period Istanbul, it was built in 1477. Inside we found a video of warring puppets hitting each other over their heads with sticks. Very Punch and Judy, except this, I think, had a more serious point, given the title of the piece. Anyway, it was in Turkish and we couldn't understand it much. More interesting was to poke about the building's ante rooms. In one of them was one of the film puppets, suspended at the back wall, like a banished fighter. Red Carded for a low punch, perhaps.

This kind of summed up the Istanbul Biennial for me, and in a good way. It has tackled some serious issues (eg, the Armenian massacre / genocide) and some less controversial ones, but mostly in a thoughtful, provocative and skilful manner. On occasions with style and bravado, too. The use of space and the sites chosen as venues was a bonus - it's been fun poking around in hotels, schools, old bank vaults and rickety houses. Istanbul is full of enthusiasm and life and I have a feeling we'll be back.

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