Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme: And yet my mask is powerful

Krannert Art Museum
January 25 - July 14, 2018 

Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme make collaborative work informed by the artists’ research with historical archives, literature, underground music, and film. And yet my mask is powerful stages encounters with materials from Palestine through installation, sound, cinema, and an artists’ book.

The exhibition has two parts. Part 1 is a video and sound installation. The camera follows a group of young people on a springtime walk through the ruins of destroyed Palestinian villages in Israel. We see them uncover masks, try them on, and descend into a cave. Staging new rituals of recuperation and discovery, their movements are framed by text the artists edited from Adrienne Rich’s award-winning poem Diving into the Wreck (1972). Transposed in English and Arabic, the text forgoes metaphors—seeking not the story of the wreck, but the wreck itself—and searches for what can possibly be retrieved from such a disastrous site. Rich’s feminist screed describes a solitary figure who draws on existing structures yet embarks alone toward a society without domination. Abbas and Abou-Rahme repurpose her words to question colonial legacies and occupation.

Part 2 resembles a scholarly study or museum storage encompassing both prehistoric time and the digital future. Neolithic limestone masks excavated near the Dead Sea and in the West Bank in the 1980s are “hacked” and reproduced using 3D technology. Printed images overlap with one another against deep blue walls while masks are unpacked, notations taken, plant specimens collected. The installation appears like a brain, inviting visitors to draw connections and peer into the artists’ multi-layered research process.

Abbas and Abou-Rahme are insurgent samplers of culture, digital bandits. And yet my mask is powerful opens possibilities for reimagining fraught histories through narratives other than endless crisis.

Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme’s work has been featured in exhibitions at the Palestinian Museum, the ICA Philadelphia, Portikus, Kunsthalle Wien, the Warsaw Museum of Modern Art, the ICA London, and the Sharjah, São Paulo, Istanbul, Gwangju, and Liverpool biennials. They were awarded the Abraaj Group Art Prize in 2016 and the Sharjah Biennial Prize in 2015. This exhibition is the United States premiere of And yet my mask is powerful.

Curator: Amy L. Powell

Interview with Niala Boodhoo on The 21st, Illinois Public Media:

Photos: Julia Nucci Kelly