In the Cache series, Jumana Manna produces anthropomorphic interpretations of khabyas. The khabya was a key feature of rural Levantine architecture, the traditional seed storage chamber was built into the interior of homes to preserve grains for sowing and annual consumption.
In her practice, Jumana Manna probes what she calls the “unruly potential of ruination and decay”, for therein lies an integral part of life and a potential for regeneration. In the body of work comprising Thirty Plumbers in the Belly, the artist fixes her gaze on the microbial passageways of wastewater. Imagining the journey of fluids through the body, a sewage system en miniature, Manna’s exploration engenders creaturely ceramics that linger, that lurk in the space. They bring to the surface forms that are usually concealed, whether beneath the ground or behind walls. Invoking pipe forms that have changed little since their advent in antiquity, the figures resemble both body parts and archaeological artefacts. Together they embody an age-old civilisatory impulse to counter contamination, to banish the abject rather than taking it into account or even using it as a creative force.
– Catherine Nichols, curator, Manifesta 14
Armpit and Armpit Shell, 2018, are displayed in a sauna inspired construction. The armpits continue the Muscle Vases series which Manna began in 2014. These two monochrome resin pieces are enlarged axillae, from the Latin ala, meaning “wing”, the hollow spaces under the arms at the shoulder where vessels and nerves pass through. Armpit is a hollow piece whose muscles are pumped exaggeratedly, while Armpit Shell is a thin cast of the first layer of dermis. Manna is like a grim anatomist. She dissects body parts and muscles to release them from their conventional function and biases. The armpit is among the warmest areas of the body and has a high concentration of hair follicles and seat glands. It is often the source of unpleasant odours and embarrassing wetness, especially in periods of passage like puberty and menopause. Manna’s sculptures are both armpits and a representation of every muscle in our body. The art object pushes itself to the threshold between the scientific, the social, and the biological. By depriving the human form of a sense of structure, these dissected armpits wittily dislocate the power of our priorities, senses, and desires.
— Ana Maria Bresciani
Foragers, 2022, depicts the dramas around the practice of foraging for wild edible plants in Palestine/Israel with wry humor and a meditative pace. Shot in the Golan Heights, the Galilee and Jerusalem, it employs fiction, documentary and archival footage to portray the impact of Israeli nature protection laws on these customs. The restrictions prohibit the collection of the artichoke-like ’akkoub and za’atar (thyme), and have resulted in fines and trials for hundreds caught collecting these native plants. For Palestinians, these laws constitute an ecological veil for legislation that further alienates them from their land while Israeli state representatives insist on their scientific expertise and duty to protect.
Following the plants from the wild to the kitchen, from the chases between the foragers and the nature patrol, to courtroom defenses, Foragers captures the joy and knowledge embodied in these traditions alongside their resilience to the prohibitive law. By reframing the terms and constraints of preservation, the film raises questions around the politics of extinction, namely who determines what is made extinct and what gets to live on.
Deep in the earth beneath the Arctic permafrost, seeds from all over the world are stored in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault to provide a reserve should disaster strike. Wild Relatives, 2018, starts from an event that has sparked media interest worldwide: in 2012 an international agricultural research centre was forced to relocate from Aleppo to Lebanon due to the Syrian Revolution turned war, and began a laborious process of planting their seed collection from the Svalbard back-ups.
Following the path of this transaction of seeds between the Arctic and Lebanon, a series of encounters unfold a matrix of human and non-human lives between these two distant points on Earth. The film captures the articulation between this large-scale international initiative and its local implementation in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, carried out primarily by young migrant women. The meditative pace patiently teases out tensions between state and individual, industrial and organic approaches to seed saving, climate change and biodiversity, witnessed through the journey of these seeds.
A magical substance flows into me, 2015, opens with a crackly voice recording of Dr. Robert Lachmann, an enigmatic Jewish-German ethnomusicologist who emigrated to 1930s Palestine. While attempting to establish an archive and department of Oriental Music at the Hebrew University, Lachmann created a radio program for the Palestine Broadcasting Service called “Oriental Music”, where he would invite members of local communities to perform their vernacular music.
Over the course of the film I follow in Lachmann’s footsteps and visit Kurdish, Moroccan and Yemenite Jews, Samaritans, members of urban and rural Palestinian communities, Bedouins and Coptic Christians, as they exist today within the geographic space of historical Palestine. Manna engages them in conversation around their music, while lingering over that music’s history as well as its current, sometimes endangered state. Intercutting these encounters with musicians, are a series of vignettes of interactions of the artist with her parents in the bounds of their family home. In a metaphorical excavation of an endlessly contested history, the film’s preoccupations include: the complexities embedded in language, as well as desire and the aural set against the notion of impossibility. Within the hackneyed one-dimensional ideas about Palestine/Israel, this impossibility becomes itself a trope that defines the Palestinian landscape.
— Negar Azimi
Co-commissioned by the Sharjah Art Foundation and Chisenhale Gallery, with Malmö Konsthall and the Biennale of Sydney.
The Goodness Regime, 2013, is an experimental documentary exploring the myths and images that have enabled an understanding of Norway as a nation of peace and benevolence. The binding element is a series of enactments by children that recount the myths, historical events and cultural personas that have propelled the image of Norway as a peace nation. These stagings are woven together with archival footage, political speeches and voice-overs from Hollywood films describing the quintessential Norway. In a satirical deconstruction of the Goodness Regime that permeates Norwegian society, Manna and Storihle explore the moral dilemmas embedded within the history of one of the wealthiest nations on earth.
Alfred Roch, member of the Palestinian National League, is a politician with a bohemian panache. In 1942, at the height of WWII, he throws what will turn out to be the last masquerade in Palestine. Inspired by an archival photograph, A Sketch of Manners (Alfred Roch’s Last Masquerade), 2013, recreates an unconventional bon vivant aspect of Palestinian urban life before 1948. Posing silently for a group photo, the unmasked and melancholic pierrots accidentally personify the premonition of an uncertain future.
Blessed Blessed Oblivion, 2010, weaves together a portrait of male thug culture in East Jerusalem, manifested in gyms, body shops and hair dressing parlours. Inspired by Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1963), the video uses visual collage and the musical soundtrack as ironic commentary. Anger’s subjects of leather-clad bikers serve as a counterpoint to the culture Manna attempts to portray, that of popular male “thug” culture in East Jerusalem. Simultaneously psychologising and allowing herself to be seduced by the characters, Manna finds herself in a double bind similar to the conflicted desire that animates her protagonist as he drifts from abject rants to declamations of heroic poetry or unashamed self-praise.
Jumana Manna: Break, Take, Erase, Tally
Wexner Center for the Arts, Ohio, United States
25 August – 30 December 2023
Jumana Manna: 8th Thessaloniki Biennale
Museum of Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki, Greece
4 March – 21 May 2023
Jumana Manna: Break, Take, Erase, Tally
MoMA PS1, New York, United States
22 September 2022 – 17 April 2023
It matters what worlds world worlds: how to tell stories otherwise
Manifesta 14, Pristina
22 July – 30 October 2022
Jumana Manna: MATRIX 278
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, United States
8 December 2021 – 6 March 2022
Jumana Manna and Haig Aivazian: The Setting of Noon
Ashkal Alwan (The Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts), Beirut, Lebanon
17 October – 30 November 2019
Jumana Manna: A Small Big Thing
Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Høvikodden, Norway
28 September 2018 – 6 January 2019
EXHIBITIONS at Hollybush Gardens
Review by Ania Szremski, 4 Columns, April 2023
Jumana Manna is Ready to Take Her First Major Museum Show on the Road
Feature by Ella Martin-Gachot, Cultured Magazine, March 2023
Jumana Manna Forages for Resistance
Review by Maddie Hampton, Art Review, March 2023
Profile: Jumana Manna
Feature by Emilia Terracciano, Art Monthly, Issue 463, February 2023
Jumana Manna: Foragers
Review by Contemporary Art Society, CAS, 18 November 2022
Jumana Manna’s Peasant Politics
Feature by Kaleem Hawa, Art in America, 10 November 2022
Report by Chris Fite-Wassilak, Art-Agenda, 17 October 2022
Seeds of Change
Feature by Natalia Brizuela and Julia Bryan-Wilson, Artforum, Vol. 62, No. 2, October 2022
In Jumana Mannaʼs Film, a Wild Plant Crosses the Political Line
Review by Will Heinrich, The New York Times, 29 September 2022
Jumana Manna: Sustaining Resilience
Interview by HG Masters, ArtAsiaPacific, Issue 128, May–June 2022
Syria and/as the Planetary in Jumana Manna’s Wild Relatives
Essay by Edwin Nasr, Afterall, Vol. 51, Spring/Summer 2021
Jumana Manna: Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen (M HKA)
Review by Hera Chan, Artforum, August 2021
Where Nature Ends and Settlements Begin
Essay by Jumana Manna, e-flux, No. 113, January 2020
Wild Relatives: The Art of Jumana Manna
Essay by Lori Dedeyan, Los Angeles Archivists Collective, September 2019
Interview by Hakim Bishara, BOMB, 25 January 2019
Jumana Manna: The Violence of Beautiful Things
Feature by Media Farzin, Frieze, No. 197, 18 August 2018
Seeds of Change
Feature by Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, Artforum, 30 April 2018
Ten Questions: Jumana Manna
Interview by Christine Antaya, Kunstkritikk, 28 January 2016
Interview by Lara Atallah, Artforum, 18 September 2015
Focus Interview: Jumana Manna
Interview by Omar Kholeif, Frieze, No. 164, July-August 2014
Jumana Manna (b. 1987) lives and works in Berlin, Germany. Manna’s work explores how power is articulated, focusing on the body, land and materiality in relation to colonial inheritances and histories of place. Through sculpture, filmmaking, and occasional writing, Manna deals with the paradoxes of preservation practices, particularly within the fields of archaeology, agriculture and law. Her practice considers the tension between the modernist traditions of categorisation and conservation and the unruly potential of ruination as an integral part of life and its regeneration.
Manna’s major solo exhibition Break, Take, Erase, Tally is on view at Wexner Center for the Arts, Ohio following its first iteration at MoMA PS1 in September 2022. Recent solo exhibitions include Foragers, Hollybush Gardens, London (2022), Jumana Manna / MATRIX 278, Berkeley museum of Art, San Francisco; Sketch and Bread, Balade Berlin-Charlottenburg, Villa Oppenheim, Berlin; Thirty Plumbers in the Belly, M HKA – Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp (all 2021); Wild Relatives, Tensta Kunsthall, Sweden (2020); Jumana Manna, Tabakalera, San Sebastian, Spain (2019); Wild Relatives, Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin (2018); Jumana Manna: A Magical Substance Flows Into Me, Mercer Union, Toronto (2017); Wild Relatives, Jeu de Paume’s Satellite 10 program at MABA and CAPC musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux, France (2017); A Magical Substance Flows Into Me, Malmö Kunsthall, Sweden (2016); A Magical Substance Flows Into Me, Chisenhale Gallery, London (2015); and Menace of Origins, SculptureCenter, New York (2014). She has participated in numerous significant group exhibitions and festivals, including Alexandria: Past Futures, Bozar, Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels; Forest: Wake This Ground, Arnolfini, Bristol; Manifesta 14, Prishtina, Kosovo; FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial (all 2022); Toronto Biennial of Art (2022; 2019); 11th Taipei Biennial (2018); Nordic Pavilion, 57th Venice Biennale (2017); Liverpool Biennial (2016); Marrakech Biennale 6 (2016); 54th and 56th Vienna International Film Festivals (2016 and 2018); 66th and 68th Berlinale (2016 and 2018); and CPH:DOX, Copenhagen (2018), where Wild Relatives (2018) won the New:Visions award. Manna was awarded the A.M. Qattan Foundation’s Young Palestinian Artist Award in 2012 and the Ars Viva Prize for Visual Arts in 2017.
Manna’s work is held in significant public and private collections internationally, including MoMA, New York, USA; MCA Chicago, USA; Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; Carre d’art, Nîmes, FR; CCS Hessel Museum of Art, Bard College, US; National Museum of Norway, Oslo, NO; Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin, IT; Fundacion TBA21, Vienna, AS; and Sharjah Art Foundation, UAE.