Jumana Manna’s first solo UK exhibition

Friday 29/01/2016
Fascinating abstractions combining the vulgar and the precious.

London - Palestinian artist Jumana Manna’s combination of unique sculptures and a 70-minute feature film — A magical substance flows into me — at her first solo UK exhi­bition was designed to show that music and radio waves “transcend Palestine’s artificial borders”.
East London’s spacious Chisen­hale Gallery was an ideal venue for Manna’s multimedia exhibition. Visitors watched the film about the musical traditions of diverse com­munities in and around Jerusalem, while seated on trellis-like wooden steps, which formed part of the sculptural installation of hollow plaster forms resembling discard­ed, vessel-like artefacts.
The inspiration for the film came from the broadcasts of Robert Lach­mann mentioned in the memoirs of a Palestinian musician, Wasif Jawhariyyeh, which Manna read while researching another project on Jerusalem and Los Angeles as two “promised lands”.
“Lachmann wanted Arabic mu­sic to remain pure and free from Western influence. Jawhariyyeh thought that the only way to pre­serve tradition was to write it down and that notation could be a tool for progress,” Manna said.
Lachmann, a German Jew who arrived in Palestine from Berlin in 1935, following the Nazis’ rise to power, wanted to set up an archive and department of Oriental Music in Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.
In the 1930s, he made a series of Oriental Music radio broadcasts for the Palestine Broadcasting Ser­vice established under the British Mandate, featuring field record­ings of musical performances by the “Oriental groups” in Palestine, comprising both Palestinians and Eastern Jews.
Manna revisited the communi­ties– including Kurdish, Moroccan and Yemenite Jews, Samaritans, members of urban and rural Pales­tinian communities, Bedouins and Coptic Christians — that Lachmann had studied, replaying his record­ings and making recordings of her own.
Revisiting Lachmann’s project provided a methodology to ex­plore the complex and fragment­ed history of her hometown. “I chose not to emphasise borders, in terms of what is Palestinian ter­ritory and what is Israel given that Lachmann’s radio programme took place before the partition of Pales­tine,” Manna said in an interview posted on the Chisenhale website.
“I thought of Lachmann’s pro­gramme as radio waves spilling out across a territory. In a sense, when making the film, I physically fol­lowed those waves. I followed the path of Lachmann’s research, per­forming the radio waves as I trav­elled to the different parts of the country bringing the recordings on my smart phone to where these groups live — even more segregated today than before.”
Her encounters with musicians are interspersed with scenes staged in her family home in East Jerusa­lem. By positioning herself along­side the musicians, Manna includes her own subjectivity within the his­torical narratives she portrays.
“In this way, the structure of the work expresses both the loss of the political space — historical Palestine — but also my effort to retrieve it,” she said in the posted interview. “This paradigm of parti­tion, the two-state solution that is still the prevalent one for Israel and Palestine, is no longer realistic or appropriate. … Part of the decision to ignore borders in the film is also part of my interest in a long-term, one-state solution.”
“Lachmann realised that from a scholarly perspective, the distinc­tion between Arab and Jew, which was already ubiquitous in Jeru­salem at that time, was false and detrimental to the study of Oriental music,” Manna said in other com­ments on the gallery website.
The installations, examples of Modernist architecture, on display in conjunction with the film are fascinating abstractions combin­ing the vulgar and the precious and leaving their meaning and interpre­tation to the viewer.
Manna said the title of the film was influenced by a chapter in Mi­chael Taussig’s book What Color is Sacred. The chapter is called A beautiful blue substance flows inside me and describes the experience of two philosophers under the ef­fect of a Colombian hallucinogenic brew.
“Both colour and sound move through time and are similarly at once authentic and deceitful,” Manna said in the Chisenhale in­terview. “They are mediums that connect to the vibratory quality of being and mediums that encoun­ter us, in a way that doesn’t always give us the possibility to control their entry into our bodies and our psyche.
“Historically, the scales of Ori­ental music were based upon a cosmological system, with consid­eration of seasons and times of the day. The scales are thought to have a real impact on our bodies and hu­man temperaments.”
Manna, who lives in Berlin and Jerusalem, received the A.M. Qat­tan Foundation’s Young Palestinian Artist Award in 2012. Her selected exhibitions include After cinema, Beirut Art Centre; Doubt of the Stage Prompter, Edit-Russ Haus für Medi­enkunst, Germany (2015); Menace of Origins, Sculpture Center, New York (2014); The Goodness Regime, Kunsthall Oslo; and Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin (both 2013).