For her Chisenhale Gallery commission, Manna presents her most ambitious film to date, within a specially constructed sculptural installation.
Manna’s moving image work explores the ways in which power is articulated through relationships – from expressions of masculinity in working-class East Jerusalem, to the particular bond between athlete and coach, or the dynamic of international relations between Norway and the Middle East that led to the Oslo Peace Accords. With her sculptures, she investigates the historical and political resonance of materials and the physical relationships between objects and bodies, drawing on archaeological artifacts, car mechanics and the cultural symbolism of Modernist architecture.
With this new work, Manna explores the different musical traditions of myriad communities living in and around Jerusalem, drawing on her research into the ethno-musicologist Robert Lachmann (1892-1939) and his work in the region. The film follows Manna’s exchanges with musicians as she encounters them in their homes and places of work and worship. The provisional architectures of these dislocated, private performance settings are developed through a sculptural installation, which also functions as seating for viewers in the gallery.
The film draws on Manna’s research into the Oriental Music broadcasts, a series of radio programmes from the 1930s, which Lachmann made for the Palestine Broadcasting Service; established under the British Mandate (1920-1948). His broadcasts featured field recordings of musical performances by the ‘Oriental’ Arab groups in Palestine, comprising Palestinians and Middle Eastern Jews. Appropriating this methodology, Manna revisits the communities that Lachmann studied – including Palestinian Bedouins, Coptic Christians, Kurdish Jews, Moroccan Jews, Samaritans, Yemenite Jews and members of urban and rural Palestinian communities – replaying his recordings and making new recordings of her own.
Manna weaves together the complex and fragmented histories of her hometown, whilst placing herself, her family and her own subjectivity at the centre of the narrative. Her interest in Lachmann’s work provides means to access some of the places and conversations from which she, as a Palestinian, would normally be excluded. Her encounters with musicians are interspersed with scenes staged in her own family home. Through fragments of the daily routines of her mother and father and glimpses of the signifiers of their domestic life, Manna reveals the historical narratives embedded within the story of her own culture and upbringing and, in doing so, positions herself alongside the musicians as another subject within the film.
Throughout the film, musical performance and re-performance allow ideas of inheritance and authenticity to emerge, raising questions about the agency of individuals and the roles they play in the production and reproduction of culture. Manna traces links between physically, culturally and linguistically dispersed communities, imagining a possible future constructed from shared aural and musical cultures, but one that is constrained by the political difficulties of Israel/ Palestine. With this new work, Manna mediates on these realities and their complexity, but also on the potential of forms – both musical and filmic – to imply new polities and affiliations in the face of war and its aftermath.