Critics’ Picks

View of “Menace of Origins,” 2014.

New York

Jumana Manna

SculptureCenter
44-19 Purves Street
March 2 - May 12

Replicas of ancient rocks that resemble traditional Jerusalemite housing bricks are spread on the floor as one enters Jumana Manna’s first institutional solo show in New York. Inside, a twenty-one-minute film titled Blessed Blessed Oblivion, 2010, explores the lifestyle of young male residents of the Silwan neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Manna, a Palestinian female artist who grew up in Jerusalem, plays a cunning protagonist, capturing “macho culture” as it permeates daily life through her own performance of gender (albeit behind the camera). Manna takes a tour of the characters’ hangouts, filming the men in suggestive, erotic angles as the men lift weights in the gym or lean under cars at auto-body shops. In one scene, she playfully commits to being shamelessly seductive when she dares one man to answer a call from a man he owes money to.

To emphasize the underlying layers of historical complexity in the neighborhood, Manna has also created an installation of relics made of found materials that constructs a pseudo-archaeological site. The works have been given sarcastic titles that respond to a current Israeli-initiated excavation that bisects Silwan. Captain Charles Warren or Claude R. Conder’s Neck, 2014, for example, is a six-foot-tall sculpture made of egg cartons, plaster, burlap, and wax. It resembles a Greek column and refers to members of the “Palestine Exploration Fund.” From 1847 to 1877, this group surveyed what is today Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, drawing up the basis for the grid system used in modern maps of Israel and Palestine. By instrumentalizing disposable materials such as egg cartons and scrap metal to create the relics, the artist proposes the vulnerability of history and of the place itself. Combined with the video and additional objects in the installation—bling watches and cell phones, among other items—Manna wittingly connects the residents’ contemporary reality with an ongoing historical perspective.