Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme: Echoes of Resistance
The artists’ new exhibition investigates how communities bear witness through performance.
May 25, 2022
The artists Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, who are known for research-driven work in video, performance, installation, and writing, often take the contemporary political situation in Palestine as a point of departure. Having worked together since 2008, they focus on voices, images, and political movements on the fringe—from writer and political revolutionary Victor Serge to Palestinian outlaw Abu-Jildeh—using their research to unearth underrepresented histories. By combining existing and new media, they articulate a digitally mediated experience of crisis in the wake of colonialism.
The immersive multimedia installation May amnesia never kiss us on the mouth: Only sounds that tremble through us is currently on view in MoMA’s Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Studio. Bringing together found and self-authored footage of people singing and dancing, a new sound composition, and text written by the artists, the work examines how communities bear witness to violence, loss, displacement, and forced migration through performance.
Installation view of Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme: May amnesia never kiss us on the mouth
An Amnesiac Archive1
Since the early 2010s, Abbas and Abou-Rahme have collected recordings of people singing and dancing in communal spaces in Iraq, Palestine, Syria, and Yemen. The majority of the videos were posted online anonymously during periods of political strife and captured at weddings, funerals, or more impromptu gatherings. Many feature popular songs with lyrics that speak of separation, loss, abandonment, and exile. Rather than depicting violence or destruction, the footage shows regular people—not trained performers—coming together and expressing emotion using their own voices. In one video, a woman in a headscarf stands in a field singing about being separated from her lover. In another, a group of men dance the dabke (a Levantine folk dance) in a refugee camp in Syria. In yet another, a woman on Iraqi national television performs a traditional dance with swords. Collectively, the videos draw connections between narratives of struggle and shared dreams of liberation across different countries and political contexts.
For the artists, collecting the videos was the beginning of a research process that would inform multiple parts of the project May amnesia never kiss us on the mouth, co-commissioned by the Dia Art Foundation and MoMA. Through a Dia Artist Web Project, the videos have been preserved and hosted online, enabling the potentially forgotten moments to create new resonances. Abbas and Abou-Rahme are interested in creating a body of knowledge that generates new artwork, thinking, and possibilities. The archive remains accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, tagged and aggregated but refusing any single narrative. Gathering and saving these videos helps combat what the artists have referred to as “the amnesiac archive” that is the Internet. While this material forms a new collection, it simultaneously challenges what an archive can be, as it will continue to inform future artworks.
Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme: May amnesia never kiss us on the mouth. Video: Oresti Tsonopoulos with Alex Munro
Sound is unruly. Sound is promiscuous. Sound misbehaves.
Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme: May amnesia never kiss us on the mouth is on view at MoMA through June 26, 2022. The Kravis Studio will host a series of ticketed evening performances by Abbas and Abou-Rahme and invited guests Hiro Kone, SCRAAATCH, and Muqata’a on June 4, 5, and 11, respectively.
Edward Said, “Reflections on Exile,” Granta 13, 1984, reprinted in Russell Ferguson, Martha Gever, Trinh T. Min-ha, and Cornel West, eds., Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures (New York, and Cambridge, MA: New Museum of Contemporary Art and MIT Press, 1990), 366.
The human microphone was a direct reaction to New York City’s laws requiring a permit for amplified sound in public. As such, this analog form of amplification became a core tool of this and other explicitly non-permitted grassroots movements. Richard Kim, “We Are All Human Microphones Now,” in The Nation, October 3, 2011. https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/we-are-all-human-microphones-now/
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