“… the mastery of non-mastery: a mastering or endless perfecting of the art of conveying that there are some things that cannot – and should not – be mastered or captured.”
Shela Sheikh, From Planting Seeds/The Fires of War: The Geopolitics of Seed Saving in Jumana Manna’s Wild Relatives
Continuing her exploration of archives, and in particular their complex relationship with both the preservation and erasure of knowledge, Jumana Manna’s Wild Relatives at the DHg brings together the artist’s 2018 feature-length documentary film of the same name, and newly commissioned sculptural work, produced this year through a production residency at the Irish Museum of Modern Art with the generous support of the Ceramics and Glass programme at the National College of Art and Design.
From the frozen wastes of Svalbard, an island in the Arctic Ocean, to the semi-arid landscape of the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, the film Wild Relatives (2018) traverses disparate geographies, political contexts and personal lives to create a series of loose links around its main protagonist: seeds. As the film unfolds through an open structure of vignettes, these tiny living archives become the focus of an exploration into how global power structures play out in the agricultural, as much as in the political, field.
Connecting the distant landscapes in the Arctic and Lebanon is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a backup facility for thousands of crop genebanks located across the world, some of which are funded by large agri-business companies and others by local governments. In 2012, with the Syrian Revolution escalating into a state of war, an international research centre was forced to relocate across the border, from Aleppo to the Bekaa. The centre was unable to transfer its genebank of seed varieties, so it decided to create a duplicate bank in Lebanon, by withdrawing back-up seeds, stored in the Svalbard Vault, and laboriously planting, harvesting and freezing their collection anew.
With a focus on the personal lives that are enmeshed in this international transaction of seeds, including those of farmers, young migrant women from Syria, a lorry driver, a priest and a scientist, the film sifts through the layers of power and personal agency that underpin global, Syrian and Lebanese agricultural policies. Through this sifting, Manna locates an unlikely connection between two revolutions: the 2011 Syrian Revolution and the Green Revolution, a worldwide move towards industrialised farming in the mid-twentieth century. Considering the ethos of ‘optimisation’ that drove this latter global movement, Wild Relatives highlights a will to master the natural world that has had far-reaching consequences for all living things on the planet.
Dr. Shela Sheikh describes Manna’s work as exploring “how one relates to the archive and the bodies that populate it – to the objects around and through which assemblages of power coalesce, with the object in the case of Wild Relatives being life itself.” Manna’s interest in the impact of power on bodies is expanded in this solo exhibition at The Douglas Hyde Gallery through a series of new, commissioned sculptural works, developed this year through a production residency at IMMA, with the generous support of NCAD’s Ceramics and Glass programme. Suggestive of both drainage systems and human limbs, these clay forms propose bodies as infrastructure in a global network – conduits for, and casualties of, power and labour flows.
The combination of the feature-length film with new sculptural elements in this significant solo show at the DHg amplifies the urgency of the work, which makes the important link between colonial violence, the war in Syria and the degradation of our natural environment.
This exhibition has been generously supported by the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (ifa).
We would like to thank the Irish Museum of Modern Art for their production residency, Janice Hough, Assistant Curator: Residency and Artists’ Programmes at IMMA, Lisa Young and Sinéad Glynn at the National College of Art & Design, Mick O’Hara of Fire Station Artists’ Studios, and in particular ceramicist Paul Martin, for their support in the realisation of new work by Jumana Manna in Dublin.
With thanks to Irish Fencing Services for their generous support.
Palestinian artist Jumana Manna (b. 1987) makes films and sculptures that explore the ways in which social, political and interpersonal forms of power interact with the human body. Her films weave together fact and fiction, biographical and archival materials, to investigate constructions of national and historical narratives. Her sculptures, more abstract by comparison, take interest in the calcifications of memory, as represented by the artefact real or forged. In recent projects, Manna has used film and sculpture to recompose various materials that pertain to historical narratives of the Levant and northern Europe as separate and relational geographies. These works have explored the ways in which economic, political and interpersonal forms of power condition architectural sites as well as human and plant life. Manna has a particular interest in the erasures that accompany various modern scientific preservation practices; her projects challenge the binary constructions of pure and unchanging heritage on the one hand, and the embrace of innovation on the other.
Recent solo exhibitions include: Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Oslo, 2018; Mercer Union, Toronto, 2017; Chisenhale Gallery, London, UK, 2015; Malmo Konsthall, SE, 2016; Beirut Art Center, Lebanon, 2015; and Sculpture Center, New York, USA, 2014. Manna has participated in group exhibitions in the Nordic Pavilion, Venice Biennale (2017), at Kunsthalle Wien, Liverpool Biennial, 20th Biennale of Sydney, Marrakech Biennale 6, The Jerusalem Show VII, Al Ma’mal Foundation, and Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Bærum. Manna’s films have been screened in festivals such as the 54th Viennale International Film Festival, 66th Berlinale Forum and IFFR Rotterdam. She was awarded the A.M. Qattan Foundation’s Young Palestinian Artist Award in 2012, the Ars Viva Prize for Visual Arts 2017, and was nominated for the Preis der Nationalgalerie für junge Kunst in Berlin in 2017. She lives and works in Berlin.
The Douglas Hyde Gallery is proudly supported by The Arts Council/An Comhairle Ealaíon and Trinity College Dublin.
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