Jumana Manna. Film still. Photograph by Marte Vold.
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Courtesy of the artist. Manna is interested in the power dynamics surrounding the processes through which history is constructed and consumed, and therefore her concerns and methods are necessarily archival, often engaging with and interrogating the acts of collecting and classification. Examining the documents, materials, and structures that together form the substrate over which these processes are enacted, she reanimates these histories through the use of metaphor, gesture, and form, often invoking human and plant bodies. The film investigates the geopolitics of seed cultivation and preservation as they unfold during the forced relocation of an agricultural research station from Syria to Lebanon as a consequence of the Syrian War. It was first established in Lebanon in and relocated to Syria a year later, following the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War. Wild Relatives follows ICARDA as it begins the process of rebuilding its collection by withdrawing from the cache of duplicates that it has deposited at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a seed bank housed on a remote Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. Echoing the annual life cycle of domesticated grains, Wild Relatives spends twelve months following the various lives bound within this exchange of seeds between Norway and Lebanon. Outside the scope of this attention, however, this disaster has extended other tendrils that complicate this narrative, prompting more intimate explorations. Surrounding this movement of seeds between institutions is a macrocosm of other migrations and lives in flux.
Connecting the distant landscapes in the Arctic and Lebanon is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a backup facility for thousands of crop genebanks located across the world, some of which are funded by large agri-business companies and others by local governments. In , with the Syrian Revolution escalating into a state of war, an international research centre was forced to relocate across the border, from Aleppo to the Bekaa. The centre was unable to transfer its genebank of seed varieties, so it decided to create a duplicate bank in Lebanon, by withdrawing back-up seeds, stored in the Svalbard Vault, and laboriously planting, harvesting and freezing their collection anew. With a focus on the personal lives that are enmeshed in this international transaction of seeds, including those of farmers, young migrant women from Syria, a lorry driver, a priest and a scientist, the film sifts through the layers of power and personal agency that underpin global, Syrian and Lebanese agricultural policies. Through this sifting, Manna locates an unlikely connection between two revolutions: the Syrian Revolution and the Green Revolution, a worldwide move towards industrialised farming in the mid-twentieth century. Suggestive of both drainage systems and human limbs, these clay forms propose bodies as infrastructure in a global network — conduits for, and casualties of, power and labour flows. The combination of the feature-length film with new sculptural elements in this significant solo show at the DHg amplifies the urgency of the work, which makes the important link between colonial violence, the war in Syria and the degradation of our natural environment. The film will be screened each day at:
Distributed for Sternberg Press. The catalog for the first solo museum exhibition of artist Jumana Manna and her work in sculpture and film. Jumana Manna has emerged on the international art scene as a unique voice among her generation. Her work in film and sculpture explores how power is articulated through relationships, often focusing on the body and materiality in relation to narratives of nationalism and histories of place. This book accompanies the first solo museum presentation of the artist in the Nordic region, at Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, and traces her distinctive work. Manna was born in the United States and grew up in Jerusalem.