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

Thursday, Jan 25 – Jul 14, 2018 11 pm – 12 am

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
College of Fine and Applied Arts
500 E Peabody Dr.
Champaign, IL 61820

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 a destroyed Palestinian village 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 II 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, curated by Amy L. Powell, curator of Modern and Contemporary art at Krannert Art Museum, is the United States premiere of And yet my mask is powerful.

Upcoming Events:

April 5 | Artist Talk: Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme

Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme will be at KAM for an artist residency April 4-6 in which the artists will engage with the campus community over a series of events. During this Artist Talk, they will discuss their work and process, and the ways in which they use sound, video, and found materials to reshape narratives about the Middle East. The talk will be held in the Krannert Art Museum Auditorium, beginning at 5:30 pm.

April 6 | Listening Party and Conversation with Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme

For Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, sound is primary. The artists compose a work’s soundtrack before any visual elements, drawing from their backgrounds in performance and underground music. 

Join the artists and Maryam Kashani, faculty in Gender and Women’s Studies and Asian American Studies; Jodi Byrd, faculty in English and Gender and Women’s Studies; exhibition curator Amy L. Powell; and Junaid Rana, faculty in Asian American Studies, for a listening party and conversation at the Channing-Murray Foundation in Urbana, beginning at 5 pm. 

Artist talk sponsored in part by the Frances P. Rohlen Visiting Artists Fund/College of Fine and Applied Arts, School of Art + Design Visitors Committee, and Krannert Art Museum

Krannert Art Museum exhibitions are made possible in part by a generous grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. And yet my mask is powerful presented in collaboration with the Landscapes of Gentrification and Settler Colonialism Research Cluster at the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, Asian American Studies and the Center for South Asian & Middle Eastern Studies. Paid for by the Student Cultural Programming Fee.