Trembling Landscapes: Between Reality and Fiction
11 artists from the Middle East
September 19, 2020–January 3, 2021
1031 KT Amsterdam
Basel Abbas & Ruanne Abou-Rahme, Heba Y. Amin, Jananne Al-Ani, Ali Cherri, Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige, Mohamad Hafeda, Larissa Sansour, Hrair Sarkissian, Wael Shawky
This autumn, Eye presents an exhibition that explores landscape with some of the Arab world’s most prominent artists working with video and film.
Landscape is a charged notion in the Middle East*: on the one hand, representations of landscape engage with a heady mix of national and natural borders, tussles over resources and territory, and (colonial) history. On the other hand, it is a rich source of identity, tradition and imagination. The artists in this exhibition investigate these topics, and by doing so, challenge and reshape views of the region. Landscape might be a complex art-historical topic anywhere in the world, and in this exhibition its depiction is indeed troubled. The artists’ relation to landscape will be very different depending on whether they hail from Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Syria or Iraq. They do not shy away from interrogating how beauty, folklore, ideology, colonialism and violence are ingrained in how landscape is understood, conceptualised, visualised and imagined. What binds these artworks together is that they explore landscape as a versatile trope for telling stories about the past, present and future, whether rooted in reality or fiction.
The exhibition title is borrowed from Lebanese artist Ali Cherri’s series of lithographic prints Trembling Landscapes (2014-2016). In this work, aerial maps of Algiers, Beirut, Damascus, Erbil, Mecca and Tehran depict political and geological fault lines. It is an apt metaphor for an exhibition that draws in equal measure on geopolitics and poetics.
A recurring theme in the exhibition is the interrogation of imaging and mapping technologies. In The Earth is an Imperfect Ellipsoid (2016) Egyptian artist Heba Y. Amin flips the colonial and male gaze, while Iraqi-born Jananne Al-Ani’s Shadow Sites I (2010) and II (2011) point to how developments in technologies of photography and film are intertwined with military technologies of aviation.
Lebanese artist Mohamad Hafeda shows how the carving up of the Middle East by colonial powers created artificial borders that continue to resonate and destabilize the region to this day, and how disenfranchised communities negotiate urban space.
For Palestinians suffering the consequences of Israeli occupation and landgrabs, landscape has for many decades been an important artistic trope to demonstrate a connection to the land and reclaim Palestinian historical presence. Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour and artist-duo Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme draw on the fragmented and disappearing topography of Palestine in highly speculative ways to drive this point home.
Although the exhibition is firmly rooted in the turbulent history and geo-politics of the region, poetic narratives unfold as well. For example, Egyptian artist Wael Shawky’s mesmerizing landscapes of Upper Egypt become a site of folklore, magic, ghosts and whimsy, rooted in Egypt’s rich literary tradition.
In the exhibition, landscape encompasses nature, cityscapes and the built environment, as well as emotional landscape. Syrian artist Hrair Sarkissian takes a deeply personal and autobiographical approach and addresses conceptions of home and collective identity in the context of the protracted violence in Syria. A similar sentiment is echoed in Waiting for the Barbarians (2013) by Lebanese artists and filmmakers Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige. It presents the viewer with a mesmerizing yet ominous landscape of Beirut, a city that has suffered, and continuous to suffer, incessantly at the hands of its corrupt rulers.
The exhibition is accompanied by a programme of films, talks and other events. Including: Mira Adoumier, Kamal Aljafari, Omar Amiralay, Basma Alsharif, Nadir Bouhmouch, Sheyma Buali, Christian Henderson, Sut Jhally, Sarah Johnson, Jumana Manna, Judith Naeff, Wael Kadlo, Lara Khaldi, Eliane Raheb, Ihab Saloul, Sary Zananiri.
*The geographical term Middle East is not neutral, but Eurocentric and has its origin in colonialism.
Curated by Nat Muller in collaboration with Jaap Guldemond and Marente Bloemheuvel