“The Horse, the Bird, the Tree and the Stone”: Palestinian folklore in the art of Jumana Emil Abboud – artist profile

Palestinian artist Jumana Emil Abboud explores Palestine’s landscape through the lens of folktales and myth.

Jumana Emil Abboud’s latest solo exhibition “The Horse, the Bird, the Tree and the Stone” is on display at Bildmuseet at Umeå University in Sweden until 17 September 2017. Art Radar profiles the artist by taking a closer look at her current show.

Jumana Emil Abboud, 'Bride by the Spring', 2015, Acrylic, gouache and pastel on paper, 28 x 39cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Jumana Emil Abboud, ‘Bride by the Spring’, 2015, acrylic, gouache and pastel on paper, 28 x 39 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Jumana Emil Abboud (b. 1971, Shefa-‘Amr, Galilee) works with drawing, installation, video and performance, exploring personal and collective memory, loss and belonging. Inspired by the landscape of Palestine, Abboud draws on the folk traditions and myth-making practices. For her latest exhibition she has collected stories and fairy tales from family and friends, as well as researched the few popular publications that collect oral histories.

Investigating these story telling practices, the artist provides new interpretations for the narratives and makes unexpected links between mythology and the global media, stories of belonging and political contestations over Palestinian land. Art Radar takes a closer look at “The Horse, the Bird, the Tree and the Stone” at Sweden’s Bildmuseet.

Installation view of "The Horse, the Bird, the Tree and the Stone" by Jumana Emil Abboud at Bildmuseet, 2017. Photo: Mikael Lundgren. Image courtesy Bildmuseet, Umeå.

Jumana Emil Abboud, “The Horse, the Bird, the Tree and the Stone”, installation view  at Bildmuseet, 2017. Photo: Mikael Lundgren. Image courtesy Bildmuseet, Umeå.

Jumana Emil Abboud, 'Cacoon', 2016, Acrylic, gouache and pastel on paper. Image courtesy the artist.

Jumana Emil Abboud, ‘Cacoon’, 2016, acrylic, gouache and pastel on paper. Image courtesy the artist.

Jumana Emil Abboud’s 2015 residency with the Delfina Foundation in London acted as a catalyst for her research, which increasingly centred around the Palestinian physician Dr Tawfiq Canaan’s analysis of Palestinian folklore. Canaan’s 1920 publication entitled Haunted Springs and Water Demons in Palestine recounts a number of oral tales about haunted sites – associated with wells and water holes across the Palestinian landscape.

In 2016 Emil Abboud made the work Hide Your Water from the Sun (2016): a video made with cinematographer Issa Freij in which the creators visited these locations, documenting the sites where the original wells and springs had once been. The exhibition also included an audio guide with Abboud reading passages from Canaan’s study.

Jumana Emil Abboud, 'Ayoub Bride', 2015,Acrylic, gouache and pastel on paper. Image courtesy the artist.

Jumana Emil Abboud, ‘Ayoub Bride’, 2015, acrylic, gouache and pastel on paper. Image courtesy the artist.

Installation view of "The Horse, the Bird, the Tree and the Stone (exhibition view)", 2017 Photo: Photo: Mikael Lundgren. Image courtesy Bildmuseet, Umeå.

Jumana Emil Abboud, “The Horse, the Bird, the Tree and the Stone”, installation view at Bildmuseet, 2017. Photo: Mikael Lundgren. Image courtesy Bildmuseet, Umeå.

The current exhibition “The Horse, the Bird, the Tree and the Stone” builds on this work and is an extension of Emil Abboud’s exploration of Palestinian mythology, oral history and landscape. The artist similarly departs from Canaan’s text as well as another compilation of folk tales entitled Speak, Bird, Speak Again, first published in English in 1989 by Palestinian authors Ibrahim Muhawi and Sharif Kanaana. The artist also conducted her own research via conversations with relatives and friends who would tell her their memories of the stories and tales.

In a video interview with the museum, Jumana Emil Abboud explains how the project began while reflecting on her experience of returning to Palestine as an adult after eleven years living in Canada. The artist comments on the confusing and painful lack of connection to her home that she experienced on arrival. She stated:

As I struggled to connect with Palestine, I started to search for my astro-guiding stars and wonder where they were. My first immediate guiding star was my childhood and my childhood memories and the strong connection I had to the landscape.

Jumana Emil Abboud, 'The Dig', 2015, Acrylic, gouache and pastel on paper. Image courtesy the artist.

Jumana Emil Abboud, ‘The Dig’, 2015, acrylic, gouache and pastel on paper. Image courtesy the artist.

Emil Abboud considered how any reading of the Palestinian landscape is fraught with political tensions. The artist turned to myth and folklore as a means of recuperating the raw and magical connection she felt with the landscape in her childhood. “The Horse, the Bird, the Tree and the Stone” includes a number of elements – a three-channel video installation, a performance, drawings and a mural – that function as a vessel for her research into these tales and myths. The exhibition is proposed as a kind of visual archive for these oral histories.

Installation view of Jumana Emil Abboud "Maskuneh / Inhabited", 2017 at Bildmuseet. Photo: Mikael Lundgren. Image courtesy Bildmuseet, Umeå.

Jumana Emil Abboud, ‘Maskuneh / Inhabited’, 2017, installation view at Bildmuseet. Photo: Mikael Lundgren. Image courtesy Bildmuseet, Umeå.

"The Horse, the Bird, the Tree and the Stone" by Jumana Emil Abboud at Bildmuseet, 2017. Photo: Mikael Lundgren. Image courtesy Bildmuseet, Umeå.

Jumana Emil Abboud, “The Horse, the Bird, the Tree and the Stone”, installation view at Bildmuseet, 2017. Photo: Mikael Lundgren. Image courtesy Bildmuseet, Umeå.

There are over 60 drawings and paintings of different scales and sizes in the exhibition, many of which have been made especially for Bildmuseet, including a map showing the animated and haunted places mentioned in Canaan’s text. In the poetical three-channel video installation Maskuneh / Bebodd (2017), Emil Abboud builds on her earlier work Hide Your Water from the Sun (2016) by weaving together more cinematic documentation of the same haunted places. Speaking about how the exhibition elements come together, she stated:

You can walk through, in, around the space, and you will always be embraced by the landscape and the magical objects and beings. They will not overpower you, I hope on the contrary that you’ll find a harmony in the space. The drawings are small and delicate in technique, even the murals are quite delicate and naïve looking…we’ve created the same landscape from different perspective and angles.

Installation view of Jumana Emil Abboud "Maskuneh / Inhabited", 2017 at Bildmuseet. Photo: Mikael Lundgren. Image courtesy Bildmuseet, Umeå.

Jumana Emil Abboud, ‘Maskuneh / Inhabited’, 2017, installation view at Bildmuseet. Photo: Mikael Lundgren. Image courtesy Bildmuseet, Umeå.

Jumana Emil Abboud, 'Flesh and bone mountain landscape', 2012, Acrylic, gouache and pastel on paper. Image courtesy the artist.

Jumana Emil Abboud, ‘Flesh and Bone Mountain Landscape’, 2012, acrylic, gouache and pastel on paper. Image courtesy the artist.

Through delicate paintings, poetic cinematography and oral performances, Jumana Emil Abboud explores the personal and collective memories and asks what myths can tell us about ourselves and our history. About the underlying themes of the exhibition, the artist writes:

There is a connection to the mythological aspect of ourselves, there is a link to the landscape that should not be taken from us, or cut apart from us. You should always have the right to be connected to your home.

Rebecca Close

1752

Related Topics: Palestinian artistsvideo, site-specific installation

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