The Shell Cello (2019) is made from the metal casing of an artillery shell, cut and welded into the shape of a conventional Western cello. Bought in the bazaar of Sulaymaniyah in Kurdistan-Iraqi, fired by ISIS, and manufactured in the USA, the shell is a nexus of international socio-political forces. (It could only be exported outside the country because its construction had transformed it from a cultural object into a military one.) The serial number ‘9-B7-343’ printed on the shell itself and across the body of the instrument marks it as both unique and a product of the globalized industry of war, a deconstruction of the symbols of culture and violence.
Although it looks outwardly like a cello, with all the details of its distinctive hourglass body intact, the Shell Cello does not behave like one. Its sound is radically different because of its metal, rather than wooden construction. Khabat has developed techniques to deal with this new materiality (including its metallic smell and its grimy surfaces). Both instrument and Khabat’s performance raise questions about where the source of their identities lies.