Oraib Toukan: Darat Al-Funun

By Wilson-Goldie, Kaelen | Artforum International, November 2007 | Go to article overview

Oraib Toukan: Darat Al-Funun


Wilson-Goldie, Kaelen, Artforum International


Oraib Toukan's first solo exhibition, at the Jordanian arts foundation Darat al-Funun, delved into a dialectic between memory and amnesia that has become almost overbearing in contemporary art practice from the Arab world. But Toukan's depiction of memory as process, and her tethering of memory to the body, marked a promising change from the now ubiquitous strategies involving imaginary archives and historical documents.

In the split-screen, single-channel video Remind Me to Remember to Forget, 2006, the tip of a makeshift pen is seen on the left side spitting out and sucking in a seemingly endless supply of gold glitter. Held by a hand that remains offscreen, the pen repeatedly writes and erases the work's title in Arabic script. On the right, the hollow at the center of a woman's clavicle, the artist's own, is seen retreating and returning as she deeply inhales and exhales. The implication is that the gold text is being expelled and reclaimed--blown and snorted, as it were--by breath. History, whether fractured into myriad lived experiences or ordered into an overarching grand narrative, is constantly written and eradicated. The vicious cycle of remembering and forgetting--in particular, with regard to moments of political trauma--has become as natural as breathing. And yet, Toukan's piece includes a request that doubles as a command: "Remind me." Remind me that this will never end, remind me that I've seen this all before, the video seems to suggest, remind me to keep breathing, remind me to keep living.

Two sources anchor Toukan's artistic investigation of the ways in which the mind holds past and present together. The first is Mahmoud Darwish's book-length sequence of prose poems, Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982, a line from which--"Please stop me from laughing, I cannot hold my memories any longer"--is evoked by the title of Toukan's two-channel video Trying to Count Memories without Laughter's Disruption, 2007, which pairs more footage of text with an eerie, unblinking eye. The second is a famous drawing by the late cartoonist Naji Al Ali called "Good Morning Beirut," first printed in 1982 in the Arabic-language newspaper As-Safir, and featured in Toukan's haunting installation of the same name from 2006. …

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