Extinction and Extraction: Archival Politics in the Work of Jumana Manna, Jane Ursula Harris, δημοσίευση στο Flash Art [18/1/2023]
Every year when I teach my art history class deconstructing the Western tradition of modernism I start with Romanticism, anchoring the movement in the colonial context from which it emerged. Orientalism and fantasies of the noble savage are explored to embody these connections, and the quote I often use to explain the latter is by George Catlin: “We travel to see the perishable and the perishing,” he wrote in his journal in the 1830s. “To see them before they fall.” It never ceases to shock me that Catlin, whose Wikipedia page still describes him first and foremost as an “American adventurer specializing in portraits of Native Americans in the Old West,” could have no awareness of the rapacious nature of his observations. But then all one has to do is consider the world he lived in, the carte blanche pass he had as a white man who could treat his archival project of documenting the remaining indigenous communities he encountered as one of righteous salvage.
The Palestinian-born artist and filmmaker Jumana Manna’s explorations into land rights, plant taxonomies, and the ongoing struggles for sovereignty in the Middle East implicate this same colonial mindset in the twenty- first century. Throughout her work, she reveals the consequences of an archival impulse to procure and control not just nature, but culture and knowledge as well. Speaking of her film Wild Relatives (2018), for example, which considers the power dynamics of centralized seed banks and industrial agriculture, Manna reminds us that Catlin’s disturbing sentiment is still very much with us: “They are another manifestation of this classical modernist contradiction of the urge to preserve the very thing being erased, and this has been a red thread in much of my work.”
Manna’s film entwines the stories of two seed banks in particular. The first is the International Center for Agriculture Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), which originated in Lebanon, moved to Syria during the Lebanese Civil War in 1976, and remained there until that country’s 2021 revolution required it be moved again. The goal was to return the seed bank back to Lebanon, but the seeds never made it. So in 2015, for the first time since its inception in 2008, the Global Seed Vault in Norway — the second seed bank in Manna’s film, and the world’s largest repository of wild and domestic seed varieties — issued a series of duplicates.
Η συνέχεια εδώ.