Shotgun Reviews

Jumana Manna: Menace of Origins at SculptureCenter

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Vanessa Thill reviews Jumana Manna: Menace of Origins at SculptureCenter in Long Island City, New York. 

Installation view, Jumana Manna: Menace of Origins, SculptureCenter, 2014. Photo: Jason Mandella.

Installation view, Jumana Manna: Menace of Origins, SculptureCenter, 2014. Photo: Jason Mandella.


At SculptureCenter, a single strange object made from egg cartons encased in waxy white plaster greets the visitor at shoe level. Farther ahead are stone blocks and a hollow plexiglass form filled with seatbelts. These scattered pieces lead toward the main room of Jumana Manna’s Menace of Origins, where a group of new sculptures surrounds a monitor playing the video Blessed Blessed Oblivion (2010). Influenced by Kenneth Anger’s experimental short film Scorpio Rising (1963), which explores masculinity and neofascism through footage of biker bravado, Manna’s video also shows men demonstrating manliness in unnerving ways. Arab men in East Jerusalem smoke in auto shops and dance around bonfires, and the camera seems to mock the bulging jeans of these brutish men who brag about betrayal and abuse or smugly explain the concept of a car wash. Yet Manna’s nuanced treatment of her subjects ultimately avoids condemnation. Their exuberant dancing is contrasted with images of hard labor, languorous smoking, and lines of poetry. The grimy, destroyed hands of a mechanic take on a tragically lyrical aspect—despite, or perhaps because of, their timeless oblivion—like the crumbling objects in the room.

A mound of stone bricks is piled in front of the flat screen like a derelict couch. The sculptures, crowding around like rowdy onlookers, reflect a current trend of chunky installations made from non-fine art materials—everyday objects wryly placed on downtown gallery floors. Yet Manna’s sculptures have an ancient archeological quality that evades the typical irony of this kind of installation. Curator Ruba Katrib notes in her text for the exhibition the symbolic importance of stone for Jerusalem, used as a building material in this contested area since ancient times. Indeed, many of these sculptures, such as the twisted metal car parts and piles of watches, are in direct dialogue with the video. This connection to Palestinian material culture shifts Manna’s sculptures out of their literal thingness toward a more imaginative plane of poetic specificity.

Jumana Manna: Menace of Origins is on view at SculptureCenter in Long Island City, New York, through May 12, 2014.

Vanessa Thill is an artist, curator, and writer based in New York.