Take Me Back

Take Me Back

With films by Omar Amiralay, Caroline Monnet, Ibrahim Shaddad, Deborah Stratman, Mikhail Lylov and Elke Marhöfer, and Kush Badhwar; and interviews with the filmmakers and texts by Shuruq Harb, Shahira Issa, Jumana Manna, Sahar Qawasmi and Nida Sinnokrot, and Fawz Kabra​

Convened by Jumana Manna

The largest migration of the twentieth century was not the consequence of a “natural catastrophe” or a war involving armed conflict, but a war of another kind—a perpetual war waged against soil, sustenance agriculture, and its knowledge forms, which resulted in overwhelming consequences for the social structures of rural life. Between the 1980s and the 2010s, more than seventy million people left the countryside for the cities in the Arab world alone. A great many of them sought to replace disappeared livelihoods, while others aspired towards the modern lifestyles and teleology of progress that cities offer. This rural-urban exodus was largely set off by a controversial array of agrarian reforms and state reconfigurations in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s (known as the “Green Revolution”) that introduced three central ingredients to the Global South: high-yield seeds, intensive irrigation techniques, and chemical inputs—among them, the chemicals that blew up Beirut on August 4.

In the weeks before we began mourning and raging over the destruction of one of the last few livable cities of the Middle East, the region, like many others, was experiencing new heights of precaution and paranoia with the second wave of Covid-19 cases. We would cross to the other side of the street to avoid germ-carrying humans, and make ourselves smaller amidst supermarket racks—spaces of potential virus transmission that are also a reminder of the world’s ecological imbalance. We planned for the great escape to quieter and greener landscapes, either temporarily (although we don’t quite understand what that means anymore) or, for some, permanently—as a lifestyle change we had been meaning to make but didn’t yet have the time, guts, or excuse to.

The city that before signaled pioneering lifestyles and progress appears today as a symbol of danger and defilement, of overconsumption, overpopulation, claustrophobia, and deferred futures. And the countryside and wilderness are projected as the place of safety and liberty, cleanliness and truth: of original happiness where age-old wisdoms were born and aged, only to suffocate into the amnesia of the city. This dichotomy has been set up since early modernity, sustained with each new historical rupture and economic turn, and now gains new optics with the spread of the pandemic.

In parallel to the urge to “return,” from early cinema till today filmmakers have been going back to the land, to study and draw inspiration from it—its traditions, its music, its cultural behaviors as a place of authenticity—either to critique ideological representations and claims to the countryside, or to perpetuate its imaginary in the name of the Nation. Sometimes, unwillingly doing both. Pushed out of their fields and ancestral lands, rural communities re-emerge as moving images of experimental film, fiction, and documentary. They remind us of the complexity of rural-urban relations and most importantly, the construction of the notion of authenticity. Modernity’s disregard for agrarian life and its historically deep knowledge-forms is challenged in the lenses of some of the filmmakers featured in this program, with works that date from the 1960s to today.

In Ibrahim Shaddad and Deborah Stratman, the rural is shown to be a place of deep-seated racism, of desired freedoms met with borders both mental and military; in Omar Amiralay, as struggle and resilience against the erasures of a violent regime’s centralized control. Caroline Monnet reshuffles archives that represent native life and labor, while Mikhail Lylov/Elke Marhöfer propose that soil is an archive of life in and of itself, which migrates as much as, if not more than, human lives.

The films compiled in this program are from different localities, not because we are all the same now, but because the impacts of global capitalism, of which the pandemic is mutant, have created uncannily similar forms of violence and resistance.

Take Me Back is a program convened by Jumana Manna as part of Artist Cinemas, a long-term, online series of film programs curated by artists for e-flux Video & Film. Take Me Back will run for six weeks from August 19 through October 3, 2020, screening a new film each week accompanied by an interview with the filmmaker(s) by Manna and invited guests.

Jumana Manna (b. 1987) is a visual artist working primarily with film and sculpture. Her work explores how power is articulated through relationships, often focusing on the body and on materiality in relation to narratives of nationalism, and histories of place. She was awarded the A.M. Qattan Foundation’s Young Palestinian Artist Award in 2012 and the Ars Viva Prize for Visual Arts in 2017. Manna has participated in various film festivals including the 54th and 56th Viennale International Film Festival, the 66th and 68th Berlinale, and CPH:DOX 2018 where her film Wild Relatives won the New:Visions award; and in exhibitions including at Henie Onstad Museum, Norway, 2018; Mercer Union, Canada, 2017; Jeu de Paume and CAPC Bordeaux, France, 2017; SculptureCenter, USA, 2014; Marrakech Biennale 6, 2016; and The Nordic Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale. Manna was raised in Jerusalem and is based in Berlin.

Artist Cinemas presents
Kush Badhwar, Blood Earth | Take Me Back: Week #6
Saturday, September 26—Friday, October 2, 2020
Artist Cinemas presents
Mikhail Lylov and Elke Marhöfer, Soils-Habit-Plants | Take Me Back: Week #5
Saturday, September 19—Friday, September 25, 2020
Artist Cinemas presents
Ibrahim Shaddad, Jagdpartie (Hunting Party) | Take Me Back: Week #4
Saturday, September 12—Friday, September 18, 2020
Artist Cinemas presents
Deborah Stratman, O’er the Land | Take Me Back: Week #3
Wednesday, September 2—Tuesday, September 8, 2020
Artist Cinemas presents
Caroline Monnet, Mobilize | Take Me Back: Week #2
Wednesday, August 26—Tuesday, September 1, 2020
Artist Cinemas Presents
Omar Amiralay, Al-Dajaj (The Chickens) | Take Me Back: Week #1
Wednesday, August 19—Tuesday, August 25, 2020
Omar Amiralay

(1944-2011) was a pioneering Syrian documentary filmmaker, noted for the strong political criticism in his films and played a prominent role in the events of the Damascus Spring of 2000. As a driving force of nonfiction auteur cinema, his work has influenced generations of filmmakers in the Arab world.

Kush Badhwar

is a filmmaker interested in collaborative practice, improvised and informal political engagement, and the ecology of sound and image across stretches of time.

Shuruq Harb

is an artist, filmmaker, and writer. She is the co-founder of several independent art initiatives such as ArtTerritories (2010-2017) and The River Has Two Banks (2012-2017). Her artistic practice focuses on online visual culture and traces subversive routes for the circulation of images and goods.

Shahira Issa

is an artist whose work is contained in a single ongoing project titled figures of accidental loves.It takes as its point of departure the difficulties or paradoxes that sometimes emerge when a correlation is drawn between thought, action, and conviction.

Fawz Kabra

is a curator and writer living in Brooklyn, New York. She is co-founder of the curatorial project Brief Histories and co-editor of the zine Tame the Wilderness?, and her writing appears in Art PapersCanvasIbraaz, and Ocula.

Mikhail Lylov

is an artist and researcher. He currently lives in Sicily and Berlin. His projects propose various practical, theoretical, and artistic interpretations of ecology. Working with moving, photographic, and archival images, he investigates histories of the interaction between human, animal, and elemental protagonists responsible for the emergence of various environments.

Jumana Manna

Jumana Manna is a visual artist working primarily with film and sculpture. Her work explores how power is articulated through relationships, often focusing on the body and on materiality in relation to narratives of nationalism and histories of place.

Elke Marhöfer

is an artist and farmer based in Berlin and Sicily. She investigates ecological practices that support human and nonhuman communities. In her film works she tests nonhuman perspectives, translating a technology like the camera from a human cultural and technical device into an environmentally intensive force. In this way, the camera becomes a tool principally undifferentiated from nonhuman animal tools, and filming becomes akin to orangutans using leaves to make squeaky kiss noises.

Caroline Monnet

is an Anishinaabe/French multidisciplinary artist from Outaouais, Québec, currently based in Montréal. Her films and visual art works have been shown at Toronto International Film Festival, Les Rencontres Internationales Paris/Berlin, Sundance Film Festival, Whitney Museum (NYC), Toronto Biennial of Art, Contemporary Art Museum (Montreal), Arsenal Contemporary (New-York), and the National Art gallery (Ottawa); and are upcoming at the Shirn Kunstalle (Frankfurt) and the Museum of Fine Arts (Montréal).

Sahar Qawasmi

is an architect, restorer, organizer, and co-founder of Sakiya in Ein Qiniya, Palestine. Through her different collaborations, Qawasmi spends much of her time in the farm at Sakiya, collectively experimenting with reclaiming, reestablishing, rewilding, and building different forms of the commons, challenging and reconfiguring private ownership and isolating social practices. She is co-developing a hands-on education program based in storytelling, care, and environmental and social justice.

Ibrahim Shaddad

, born in Halfa, Sudan in 1945, studied at the Konrad Wolf Film University of Babelsberg in Germany. He has written and directed many films and some plays. Practically all of his films and plays in Sudan were discontinued by producers or banned by governments. He is a founding member of the Sudanese Film Group and a member of the editorial board of the magazine Cinema. His extensive filmography includes the acclaimed A Camel (1981), The Rope (1984), and Insan (1994).

Nida Sinnokrot

’s work aims to subvert various technologies of control that give rise to shifting social, political, and geographic instabilities. His films, installations, and sculptures often transform ordinary objects or actions into sensory experiences that reveal the hidden complexity of relationships trapped within the mundane. Sinnokrot is a co-founder of Sakiya in Ein Qiniya, Palestine; and is currently a faculty member of MIT’s Art, Culture, and Technology Program (ACT) in the School of Architecture and Planning in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Deborah Stratman

makes films and artworks that investigate power, control, and belief, considering how places, ideas, and society are intertwined. Recent projects have addressed listening, freedom, surveillance, sinkholes, comets, raptors, orthoptera, levitation, exodus, sisterhood, and faith.

Take Me Back 1–6 Contributors
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