The feeling of having a phantom limb is often described as a kind of painful lingering.
The phrase refers to the sensation amputees feel around their lost limbs – a sense that they are still attached. It is this haunting feeling that the Jameel Arts Centre’s latest major exhibition is named after.
The show, which opens on Thursday, October 10, features 13 artists and collectives who explore the link between material culture and our perceptions through sculpture, installation, video, photography and 3D rendering.
It is the second major thematic exhibition at the centre since last year’s Crude, which looked at oil as a driving force for social, cultural and economic changes in the Middle East.
Artefacts and architectural sites have long been used to create, alter or destroy narratives about particular societies. When ISIS gained control over parts of Iraq in 2014, for example, the terrorist group set about razing world heritage sites in an attempt to relinquish the past and create a ‘new’ society.
Other times, historical buildings are destroyed not in times of conflict, but in times of progress, when they are replaced by newer, commercial developments.
In recent years, there have also been growing debates about the return of cultural artefacts – like Egypt's Rosetta Stone – from institutions in the West to their sites of origin in the Middle East and Africa.
In these instances, material culture and heritage play a big role in how we come to think about our histories and how they shape our national identities. What impact does the destruction of significant heritage sites have on collective cultural memory? How do we reconcile the colonial histories of some existing architectural sites?
Phantom Limb includes major artists who deal with these questions and ideas, including Khalil Rabah, Kader Attia, Akram Zaatari and Rayyanne Tabet. Jameel Arts Centre has also commissioned Rand Abdul Jabbar, Ali Cherri, Decolonizing Architecture and Benji Boyadgian to create works for Phantom Limb. They will be shown alongside existing works by Jumana Manna, Frances Wadsworth Jones, Theo Mercier.
Forensic Architecture, an independent research agency comprised of architects, archaeologists, artists, filmmakers, software developers and journalists, will present their work Maps of Defiance – an extensive installation of annotated maps, visual materials and 3D models that shows how digital design and image capturing technology can be used to record data from sites of war, violence and trauma. These 3D models can be used not only to develop a documentation of a site's destruction, but they could also potentially be used in litigation for war crimes, as in the case of ISIS and Iraq.
Filipino artist Pio Abad's ongoing project The Collection of Jane Ryan & William Saunders will also be on view. The title refers to the false identities created by Philippine dictator Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos to open bank accounts at Credit Suisse, where they transferred large amounts of stolen money from the government.
In an attempt to create to materialise this plunder and develop an inventory of indulgences, Abad has recreated objects owned by the Marcos’, including jewellery, expensive silverware and artworks. On Wednesday, October 9, the Abad will discuss his work at an Artist Talk in the centre.
The artists in Phantom Limb consider how these erased histories still linger, and they attempt to reclaim these narratives and memories through documentation and imagination.