May 28 – June 30, 2021
Opening Reception: Friday May 28, 2021 at 7pm
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA — May 3, 2021 — Pro Arts Gallery & COMMONS is proud to present Mercury Retrograde, an exhibition of recent work by Zeina Barakeh, curated by Chief Curator/Visual Art at Pro Arts, Maymanah Farhat.
Mercury Retrograde will open on the evening of May 28, 2021 with an Artist Talk, alongside an outdoor projection of featured works. The exhibition will highlight recent animations and prints that interrogate the legacy of war, the history of colonialism, and the rise of the American military industrial complex, particularly as it continues to shape geopolitics in North Africa and West Asia.
In a compilation of the animations Homeland Insecurity (2016) and Slam Bang Blue (2018), for example, Barakeh interrogates the mechanisms of war, drawing from various transnational mythologies in addition to current and historical events. Cotton is depicted as a core resource in the economics and spread of empire from the Islamic Era through the time of the Crusaders and into the present. The main characters of the compilation are the Centaur––a male human head and torso on a lower body of a horse––and the Horse, an avatar of the artist’s own body with the head of a horse. The image of the colonizing Centaur is based on an archival photograph of mounted soldiers of the British Mandate of Palestine (1920–1948), taken in Jaffa Central Square during the 1933 Arab Revolt. The Horses depict colonized subjects, embodying agency and resistance.
The animation series Projections From The Third Half (2020) constructs infinite narratives of war by combining stills from Homeland Insecurity and Slam Bang Blue. Within each possible combination of stills, lies the potential for a new plot, a possible development, and a distortion of the original animations. One plot is represented in the series, as the animation’s illegible imagery references the chaos of war in order to point to the lack of clarity and truth and the disorientating fragments of information typically portrayed by the media.
Barakeh’s Holy Land (2019) prints similarly combine stills from Homeland Insecurity (2016) and Slam Bang Blue (2018) and are annotated with passages from the US Department of Defense Law of War Manual. These texts include ethically contested definitions and guidelines for military occupation; rules in conducting attacks; lawful weapons; treatment of detainees; interrogation techniques restrictions; and the relationship between the principles of humanity, military necessity, and military objectives. The manual’s texts are referenced and applied during war and operate within a gray zone, sometimes violated, sometimes used to justify the U.S.’s military and economic interests abroad.
Barakeh views these works as media mobilizations and archival documents and artifacts that not only generate counter histories, what she also describes as “reparative narratives,” but also offer imagined futures.
Maymanah Farhat is a curator and writer working between New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area. She has organized exhibitions in museums, university galleries, and nonprofit art spaces since 2006, notably at the San Francisco Center for the Book, the Center for Book Arts, Manhattan, the Minnesota Museum of American Art, the Arab American National Museum, Art Dubai, Virginia Commonwealth University, Doha, Qatar, and Beirut Exhibition Center.
Pro Arts Gallery & COMMONS is a collectively-held space in Oakland, California that blurs the line between art, debate, experimentation, and collaboration. Through the sharing of material and immaterial resources, we reflect Oakland’s existing artistic and cultural fabric, while creating future landscape of other commons-centric spaces that encourage the economic and cultural power of the community. Our collaborative activities are rooted in these mutual values and principles.
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