The Land Promised

Jun. 22 – Aug. 29, 2014


The Middle East Center for the Arts (MECA) at Mana Contemporary is proud to present its Chicago debut, The Land Promised. Opening June 22, 2014, the exhibition features the work of six contemporary Israeli, Palestinian, and American artists who live and practice in Israel and the United States.

The exhibiting artists Fatma Abu Rumi, Raida Adon, Ofri Cnaani, Eugene Lemay, Manal Mahamid, and David Wakstein confront the plight of geographical and cultural displacement and marginalization, while raising questions on identity and the role of the artist in documenting historical conflict.

The work of Raida Adon and Manal Mahamid reflects themes consistently articulated in the work of Palestinian-Israeli cultural practitioners: a physical presence in the State of Israel, yet a spiritual estrangement from a Palestinian homeland, and alienation as religious and ethnic minorities in a Jewish state. Adon’s works Fasatine and Beyond the Walls tell the story of what Palestinians call the “nakba” (or “catastrophe”), of Israel’s creation in 1948, during which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were driven into exile. Featuring figureless, empty billowing black dresses, Fasatine takes place on the outskirts of Jerusalem in the village of Lifta, a pastoral town whose residents fled in 1948 and never returned. Beyond the Walls depicts the story of the city of Acre during this same period. Mahamid’s Sacrificeposes the violence of ritual killing against the sublime landscape of her home village of Umm El-Fahem, providing a powerful commentary on the fragile thread between earthly beauty and man-made violence.

Adon’s work, as well as that of Fatima Abu Rumi, also speaks to a broader historical perspective by addressing gender stereotypes and personal identity. Nuanced feminisms emerge, and confront nostalgic Western notions on Arab femininity. Ofri Cnaani confronts this prejudice as well, scoffing at multiple ignorant speculations and misapprehensions of the Promised Land by tourists and onlookers. These sorts of blind gazes in all of their soft oppression are also directly confronted in the work of David Wakstein.

Eugene Lemay, a founder of MECA and this exhibition’s curator, was born in Michigan to a Syrian-Lebanese mother and French Canadian father. During his early years, his parents were Christian social justice activists working across racial lines during the Civil Rights Era. His family’s conversion to Judaism and move to a kibbutz in Israel during Lemay’s teen years led to his enlistment in the Israeli army at age 19. In his service he was tasked to explore and document contested territories in the dead of night. These harrowing excursions reflect themselves in his dark works, where obfuscated text is revealed to be sympathetic language written for the families of the fallen, and also in his selection of artists for this exhibition, which reveals a will to chart a path through the muddied fog of conflict toward an international dialogue.

Press Release