“Points of Departure”

ICA - Institute of Contemporary Arts, London
The Mall
June 26, 2013–July 21, 2013

Jumana Emil Abboud, I Feel Nothing (detail), 2012–13, HD video, gouache, pencil, acrylic and pastel on paper, dimensions variable. Installation view.

This moving exhibition is an exploration of living in liminality—of Palestine and its people, as well as of war and occupation. Each artist here addresses a sense of homelessness, and mobilizes narratives concerning identity, history, and nationalism. Particularly striking is Jeremy Hutchison’s Fabrications, 2013, which is as touching as it is unsettling. The installation presents a selection of jeans, distorted in such a manner that they are unwearable. An adjacent plaque explains: A JEANS MANUFACTURER IN PALESTINE IS COMMISSIONED TO MANUFACTURE JEANS THAT REPRESENT WHAT IT IS LIKE TO MANUFACTURE JEANS IN PALESTINE. The jeans, in their dysfunction, convey the contradictions of making a semblance of the quotidian West within the chaos of a conflict zone—an almost uncanny symbol.

Equally arresting is Jumana Emil Abboud’s I Feel Nothing, 2012–13, which highlights the manufactured nature of history and culture. This work includes a film with the recitation of both Palestinian and European versions of the fairy tale “The Handless Maiden” alongside video montages of Greco-Roman sculpture and ancient Egyptian artifacts depicted within an unspecified museum—a setting that itself represents an inherently artificial reconstruction of history. Accompanying the video are works on paper, including a childlike rendering of a wolf onto which these words are scrawled in blood-red text: YOU BITE WHEN YOU TOUCH YOU PINCH WITH YOUR STING NOLI ME TANGERE NOLI ME TANGERE. The bestial image suggests the Big Bad Wolf from “Little Red Riding Hood,” a warning for children of sexual predators, while the phrase “noli me tangere” (Latin for “do not touch me”) recalls both Christ’s words to Mary Magdalene in the Gospel of John and Titian’s famous painting of the same name. When placed in this context of sexual abuse and vulnerability, the phrase conflates the victim with the martyr.

— Ashitha Nagesh