Recounting the first four Crusades using an evolving cast of marionettes, Wael Shawky's Cabaret Crusades trilogy is widely interpreted as exploring the construction of history. Close attention to the puppet performances, however, suggests that far more is at play than literalizing how the players on life's stage are caught up in history and swept along by external forces. For example, the identity of puppet and puppeteer is frequently destabilized, an instability achieved as much through the possibilities of video as within the material exchanges of puppet and puppeteer. The essay investigates several questions: What questions are posed regarding the interactions of human agency and matter when the marionette becomes the marionettist through the mediation of video? How might this push up against the more obvious histories that Shawky interrogates? And, ultimately, how does this revised form of representation transform understandings of that which the puppet has long represented—the very condition of the human?

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