This Week In Palestine

Production still from “A Sketch of Manners,” Manna 2012
“For Those Who Like the Smell of Burning Tires,” 2012
Still from “The Norwegian Model (working title),” 2012
“Karate, Porn, Indian, Turkish, Taiwanese,” 2012
“Resting Flag,” 2011

Issue No. 176,

December 2012
Jumana Manna

Jumana Manna was born 1987, in New Jersey, and raised in Shu’fat, Jerusalem. When she was 18, she began studying for a bachelor’s degree in fine arts at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. During the first year, she was offered a full scholarship to study at the National Academy of Arts, in Oslo, where she continues to be based, part time. Last year, she completed her master’s degree in aesthetics and politics at California Institute of the Arts.

Manna was awarded the first prize in the Young Artist of the Year 2012 contest, sponsored by the A.M. Qattan Foundation, for her video installation, Imagined Cities (a work in progress). The video is the first fragment of a feature-length film that explores the imaginary of Jerusalem and Los Angeles as promised lands, signifiers beyond the realm of the ordinary, or real cities. These first eight minutes of the project, titled A Sketch of Manners, is a re-animation of photography, showcasing the last masquerade in Palestine that took place in1942 at Alfred Roch’s house in Jaffa. Roch, a member of the Palestinian National League, was a merchant and landowner who hosted annual masquerades from the 1920s onwards. The video attempts to resurrect a peculiar aspect of urban modernity of Palestine, but also the bifurcated relationship to the West in the light of early Palestinian nationalism. 

Manna’s work takes form primarily in video/film and sculpture. Although she sees them as separate practices, they are usually interlinked in thematic and point of departure, namely, escapism, the construction and disintegration of community, the body and history. Her videos and short films explore the construction of human identity in relation to historical narratives and subcultural or athletic communities. They weave together portraits of morally dubious characters and events. In an earlier work from 2010, Blessed Blessed Oblivion, she unpacks the construction of masculinity as it manifests itself in car body-shops, gyms, and barbershops in East Jerusalem. The 23-minute video makes clear references to the American avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1963), but departs occasionally from the music-video-like format into confessions of her protagonist, drifting from heroic recitations of poetry to abject misogynist rants. Her sculptural practice is intuitive and eclectic, using a variety of materials from scrap metal, bronze, and leather to mosaic stone. They often entail the disfiguring of familiar objects, de-bunked from their designated function and re-presented in a state of defeat or negation. 

Playing music, drawing, and spending many hours under water from a young age, Manna knew that she was going to be involved with art. It was at age 17 that she quit being a competitive swimmer and decided to pursue art, full time, instead. “Art has given me the tools and mental space to create my own territory, to breathe easier, and feel more at home in my own skin,” says Manna. She explains that the recognition and various forms of support she receives add to her confidence and strengthen her position as an artist and the work she stands for. “It’s reassuring to know that one has an audience and followers who are interested in one’s process. It’s a nurturing feeling that creates a positive relation towards one’s work.” 

Her next step is to finalise an experimental documentary, The Norwegian Model, in collaboration with the Norwegian artist Sille Storihle. Over the past year they have been working at deconstructing the national identity of Norway as a benevolent nation, or what has been coined “The Goodness Regime” that hovers over Norway’s foreign policy and self-image. One of the cases they consider is the Oslo Accords, and how they enforced Norway’s image as a peace nation, internally and abroad, despite their major failure in Palestine. “The most important thing is to speak and create from the position one is in and not try to represent anyone but oneself,” Manna reflects. She represents a unique voice among artists in Palestine and abroad. The honesty of her art is apparent, and her bold yet delicate style in making herself heard is distinctive on its own.

Selected exhibitions include Art Basel (Miami), Film Society Lincoln Center (New York), Vox Populi (Philadelphia), (UKS) Young Artist Society (Oslo), Kunsthall Charlottenborg (Copenhagen), Art Dubai and al-Mahatta Gallery (Ramallah). Upcoming solo shows include Kunsthall Oslo, CRG Gallery (New York), Kunstlerhaus Bethanien (Berlin).