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Syria and/as the Planetary in Jumana Manna’s Wild Relatives

Jumana Manna, Wild Relatives, 2018, HD video, colour, sound, 64min, stills. Courtesy the artist
Curator Edwin Nasr analyses Palestinian artist Jumana Manna’s video Wild Relatives (2018), which retraces a transnational geography of extractivist dynamics between Syria and Norway. Reading the work in relation to non-cinematic pieces by the artist as well as documentary films by Syrian film-maker Omar Amiralay, Nasr cogently reveals the complex interweaving of nature, war, colonialism and the planetary condition that traverses Manna’s art.
Jumana Manna, Wild Relatives, 2018, HD video, colour, sound, 64min, stills. Courtesy the artist

It has almost become self-evident to approach Syria or, rather, what could be called the Syrian condition as a metaphor for and a diagnosis of our planetary predicament. Exiled political dissident and writer Yassin al-Haj Saleh frames it the other way around, recognising a contagion of ‘criminality at the heart of the current international order’, a process he refers to as a ‘Syrianization of the world’, through which a state’s systematic extermination of life avails itself of the imperatives of international human rights treaties and intergovernmental organisations.01 It might be deemed unhelpful, at this point in time, to assess whether it was the Syrian war that wrought forth conditions of impunity now being reproduced across continents, or whether the ontological violence of the world had undiscerningly submerged Syria along its way in the first place. And yet, both affirmations can hold true. The Assad regime and its regional allies’ sheer barbarity and the unprecedented scale of destruction the country continues to suffer from were hyper-mediatised at the beginning of this past decade. The first wave of war-crime documentations that had emanated from Dara’a, the Rif Dimashq Governorate, al-Qusayr and Aleppo altered our collective understanding of what it meant to witness the unfolding of an historic atrocity. A couple of decades back, Jean Baudrillard contentiously declared that the Gulf War (1990–91) was the first video game war. 02It would follow, logically, that the Syrian war is the first social media war, whereby abstracted aerial imagery of expendable peoples and…

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