Commissioned by the 6th Marrakech Biennale, The Contractor’s Heel originated as a theatrical staging of sculptures at the remarkable remains of the 16th-century El Badii Palace, or The Incomparable Palace. Jumana Manna’s body of sculptures take the edifice’s current material state as its starting point, while developing her ongoing interest in archaeology and heritage sites as arenas of modern myth production. Generated from the shapes and lines detected in the vast clay walls of the Palace, the sculptural forms of The Contractor’s Heel mimic its surface encrustations, or suggest some hard-skinned appendages of the building’s past or future. Recently, these sculptures left Marrakech for New York to start a new life. Like many fragments dislocated from their site of origin, the sculptures bear with them the spirit of El Badii. What specter they carry will be discovered at this new elsewhere.
Today, El Badii Palace functions as a tourist site. Years of passages – rulers, inhabitants and storks lace the now skeletal form, their traces converging on the bare walls like a palimpsest. Manna imagines a moment in time where a contractor would take upon himself the task to arrest this process. He would come with drills, scaffolding, workers and specialists to alter the patinations of the clay walls, and outdoor squares. Manna’s sculptures would be the animated refuse from this process of restoration, struggling to keep up with this new and imposed synchronization.
Through her sculptures, Manna unfolds representation by indirect means, creating a visual language of surrogates and absences, where political and historical urgencies often assume the shape of desiring bodies. The sculptures in The Contractor’s Heel are propped on metal scaffolds and wooden planks, like construction workers, or deflated gym bodies on bench-presses, showing off their curves and proportions to one another. This enigmatic overlapping of body, architecture and exoskeleton is produced in plaster, resins, cow and camel bone. Like hardened skins separated from the bodies they once cloaked, the works alternate between seductively smooth surface-ness and pronounced solidity of matter, where substance and surface would be one and the same.
These kinds of material contradictions often animate Manna’s films and installations, treating them as manifestations of systemic alterations and erasures of patrimony. The Contractor’s Heel recalls Manna’s 2014 installation Menace of Origins at Sculpture Center, which juxtaposed the worlds of male thug culture of East Jerusalem and the structural violence of Israeli archaeological digs in the same neighborhoods. Her new sculptural work also resonates with the final scene of her most recent film, A Magical Substance Flows Into Me (2015), where a home under construction serves as the carcass-like stage for a joyous wedding song with a soloist, a synthesizer and reed-flute. Like this filmic culmination, Manna’s forms – her combinations of used plastic, wood, metal and other found materials with well-crafted casts – figure the impasses and fragments of daily life as a strange vitality and desire.