In her latest exhibition, Menace of Origins, Jumana Manna examines cultures of masculinity in her hometown East Jerusalem through a series of sculptures which complement her 2010 video work Blessed Blessed Oblivion. The complete installation can be seen at Sculpture Center in New York through May 12, 2014.

The video component of the installation references Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1963) with portrayals of traditionally male-dominated spaces, such as car garages and gyms. In Blessed Blessed Oblivion, a soundtrack of shaabi pop music plays while images, including men dancing around a bonfire, cigarettes, and cars, flit across the screen.

Manna herself is an integral part of the video, as she interacts with and interviews men who brag equally about their car expertise and their mistreatment of women. As a woman, Manna understands these conversations as a performance of what it means to be a man in East Jerusalem.

Manna has explored gender and masculinity in previous works, including The Umpire Whispers (2010) and The Shabab Series (2006-2008). In addition to her interest in the forces shaping macho culture, Manna says, “I’m actually really interested in history, in ideological narration, in finding those precise moments that alter the way we imagine things.”

Thus, the setting of heavily contested Silwan in East Jerusalem allows Manna to demonstrate the widely prevalent and oft-overlooked cultures of men living in a place burdened with historical, political, and religious significance.

The video sheds light on what Manna describes as Jerusalem’s thug culture—an intensely macho world of drugs, crime, and debt, dominated by violent, sexually explicit language and bizarrely old-fashioned codes of honor—and reveals the fears and dreams of disaffected young men trapped in an overly symbolic but toxically small city with limited economic opportunity, terrible fashion sense, and a totally uncertain future. Perhaps it is because so much of the world is always watching Jerusalem that it has fostered such unexpected communities, all of them hidden in plain sight of the diplomats, lobbyists, pundits, humanitarians, academics, journalists, militants, and zealots who consider this city their rightful domain. [ArtForum]

In an interview with Sheyma Buali in 2013, Manna elaborates on the importance of setting to her work.  “It is precisely that foggy area between the melancholic mendacity and the religious fantasy of Jerusalem that I would like to capture. The frivolous characters I choose to focus on bring a perverted image of the holy city through their obsessions with artificiality, games and lies.”

Manna successfully captures the intersections of performed gender and national narratives in Blessed Blessed Oblivion. The protagonist, Ahmed, interrupts his joke about a lustful old woman to recite Abdel Rahim Mahmoud’s 1937 poem “The Martyr,” a literary symbol of Palestinian resistance.

Installation view, Jumana Manna: Menace of Origins, SculptureCenter, 2014. (Photo: Jason Mandella)

Installation view, Jumana Manna: Menace of Origins, SculptureCenter, 2014. (Photo: Jason Mandella)

The material culture of Silwan is the focus of the sculptures, specifically the recurring Jerusalem stone. The emphasis on East Jerusalem’s physical material and the changing architectural landscape, referenced by Manna’s constructed sculptures and recovered artifacts, contribute a complex sense of place and time to the video installation.

The sculptures that Manna is producing in relation to the video comprise a reexamination of its subject matter through the notion of relics. Using archaeology as a device, Manna explores ruins and architectural forms from a site in the same area that the protagonist from her film lives in. Creating an unlikely pairing of subject matter, Manna questions the construction of power, nationalism, gender, and history through material relationships.

The combined video and sculptures create an audio-visual exploration of the inextricable discourses of gender, place, and history in the construction of identity, as the title of the exhibit suggests.

Jumana Manna, born in 1987 in New Jersey, works primarily with film and sculpture. She has studied art in Jerusalem, Oslo, and Los Angeles, holding a BFA from the National Academy of the Arts, Oslo and an MA in Aesthetics and Politics from California Institute of the Arts. Her recent exhibitions and screenings include Performa13 Biennial (New York City), Home Works Forum VI (Beirut), Kunsthall Oslo (Oslo), Dubai Art Fair (Dubai), Sharjah Biennale (UAE), Berlinische Galerie (Berlin) and ICA (London). In 2012, she was awarded The Young Palestinian Artist of the Year Award from the A. M. Qattan Foundation.

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