Born 1987 in Princeton, USA Lives and works in Berlin, Germany and Jerusalem
Palestinian artist Jumana Manna is a filmmaker and sculptor who might also be considered a performer, anthropologist and historian. Interested in how the construction of identity and community is shaped by ideas of nationalism, history and the body, Manna questions everyday ideas, objects and accepted narratives using documentary and sculptural installations. Her films, in particular, often reflect intensive research and a highly immersive, personal approach.
A co-commission by the Biennale of Sydney, London’s Chisenhale Gallery, Sharjah Art Foundation and Malmö Konsthall, Jumana Manna’s A magical substance flows into me, 2015, continues the artist’s interest in notions of nationalism, history and the construction of community – in particular, how it relates to her understanding and experiences of contemporary Palestine.
Manna is the unwitting protagonist in her film, which is both scripted and unscripted, as it follows her research into the German ethnomusicologist Robert Lachmann (1892–1939). Lachmann was the music librarian at the Berlin National Library before he fled to Palestine in 1935 to escape the rise of Nazism. He went on to produce a series of broadcasts, called Oriental Music, for the Palestine Broadcasting Service, which was established under the British Mandate (1920–48).
These broadcasts featured field recordings from across Palestine, including Kurdish, Moroccan, Samaritan, Yemenite Jew, Bedouin and Coptic Christian music. Using the recordings as a framework for exploring the fragmented histories and segregated peoples of Palestine, Manna travels across the country, retracing Lachmann’s steps, ‘performing the radio waves’. She seeks out musicians to whom she plays the recordings, and then asks to perform in response.
Filmed in a series of intimate, domestic settings in Nablus on the West Bank, East and West Jerusalem and the Galilee, Naqab, Tel Aviv and Rosh HaAyin in Israel, the geography of borders and territories becomes impossible to determine. By focusing on shared aural experiences, musical performance and the nature of cultural production, Manna ultimately questions the logic of partition. ‘The structure of the work expresses both the loss of that political space – historical Palestine – but also my effort to retrieve it … to provide a space from which another Palestine can be imagined,’ she says.
Within the gallery space, these domestic spaces are played out through an architectural/sculptural installation that also operates as a seating arena for viewers. These sculptural forms are constructed from handcrafted, hollow, painted plaster pieces and everyday objects that give them a strangely familiar charge. Manna likens these forms to mutated body parts. ‘The idea of the body as a medium, and as a place of resonance, has … followed me, both throughout the film and in the making of the sculptures. The sculptures are … empty containers like our bodies… I like this idea that sound is taking place in space but it is also spreading within me.’
Located within the Embassy of Spirits at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Manna’s work can also be understood as an investigation into the spiritual nature of music and its capacity to shape both identity and cultural and religious rituals.
Recent selected solo exhibitions of the artist’s work include, ‘Jumana Manna’, Chisenhale Gallery, London (2015); ‘Doubt of the Stage Prompter’, Edit Russ Haus, Oldenburg (2015); ‘Menace of Origins’, Sculpture Center, New York (2014); ‘The Goodness Regime’, Kunsthall Oslo (2013). Recent group exhibitions include, ‘Aftercinema’, Beirut Art Center (2015); ‘Lest The Two Seas Meet’, Museum of Modern Arts Warsaw (2015); ‘Riwaq Biennale’, Ramallah (various), Palestine (2015); ‘We are living on a Star’, Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Norway (2014).