Magic with Jumana Manna - Art Collector

  Jumana Manna, A magical substance flows into me, 2015. Production still.
Co-commissioned by the Sharjah Art Foundation and Chisenhale Gallery with Malmö Konsthall and the Biennale of Sydney. Courtesy: the artist and CRG Gallery, New York


By Emma Capps

A memorable scene in Jumana Manna’s most recent film, A magical substance flows into me (2015), is set in the offices of the Supreme Planning Council of Judea and Samaria (an area otherwise referred to as the West Bank).

We see two men – one seated at a desk, cradling a traditional stringed instrument in his arms, the other, a younger man, stands beside him, solemn and upright. The seated man lifts his instrument and begins to sing, creating a sound, which is large, open, and deeply beautiful; incongruous with the computers, post-it notes, piles of documents, and other mundane office provisions around them. Occasionally the younger man tentatively opens his mouth and silently attempts a few words of the song; otherwise he stands, earnestly listening, as we are. The atmosphere of this scene is typical of that which pervades the rest of this feature-length film – Manna’s direction is patient, invested, and deeply calm.

Manna, who grew up as a Palestinian in Israel, moves through Jerusalem, her hometown, as well as venturing further afield, recording encounters with Kurdish, Moroccan, and Yemenite Jews, Samaritans, members of urban and rural Palestinian communities, Bedouins, and Coptic Christians. She meets musicians and records their songs, interweaving through voiceover (and sometimes through the introduction of archival images and text) the writings of the German-Jewish ethnomusicologist Robert Lackmann. Her cinematographer, Daniel Kedem, casts the film in a dry light, which seems to approximate the climate of its various locations.


  Jumana Manna, A magical substance flows into me, 2015. Production still.
Co-commissioned by the Sharjah Art Foundation and Chisenhale Gallery with Malmö Konsthall and the Biennale of Sydney. Courtesy: the artist and CRG Gallery, New York


Of her work, Manna has said, “I’m never satisfied by one position, so I layer things and trust that connections will be drawn, since they grow out of my experiences”. The many positions at work in the film constantly converge, but never overtly. Explicitness is not Manna’s interest; rather, she seems to engage primarily in atmosphere – trusting the audience to find their own path through the film.

Before the scene at the Planning Council comes to an end, the camera moves away from its subjects, focusing instead on the view outside. The day is ending, and as the streetlights of the city come up, we can feel that the spirit of the music seems to rest outside the office, outside the film, belonging more to the fading light outside.

Jumana Manna shows at Chisenhale Gallery from 18 September to 13 December 2015.


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