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'Unpromised Land'
'Unpromised Land'



'Unpromised Land'   review

Alice Springs News 19 November 2003

PALESTINE'S ECHO IN OUR WORLD
Review by KIERAN FINNANE


Pip McManus' ceramic work unpromised land, showing at Watch This Space after exhibition in Tasmania and before going to Darwin, evokes the foundering of hope in the search for promised lands/ lands of promise on opposite sides of the globe.

A commissioned work, unpromised land responds in part to the endeavours of an historical figure, Critchley Parker Jnr, the son of a mining magnate, who in the 1940s imagined carving out a prosperous Jewish settlement from the Tasmanian wilderness. Parker refused to consider the advice of locals, let alone common sense, and died a solitary death in storm-lashed Port Davey, holding onto his delusional vision to the end.

Though Parker never got to turning the first sod, McManus links his story to the Jewish settlement of Palestine.

The work is an installation of three ceramic tablets. The first shows the wilderness of the Sinai, mountains in the distance intersected by an old map of the area. In the foreground are flourishing olive branches, symbols of life, hope and peace, yet in the middle ground, rising like a formidable escarpment over the ancient Temple of the Rock are the high-rise apartment buildings of Jewish settlers that surround present-day Palestinian lands like fortresses.

The link with Parker's folly is the colonist's assumption that land is there for the taking, irrespective of its existing conditions: Palestinian habitation on the one hand, magnificent but inhospitable wilderness on the other.

Jewish settlement is a narrative thread that assists this reflection.

The second tablet shows the flourishing vegetation of Tasmania's south-west in the foreground, with fragments of Parker's last letters and a map of the Port Davey area in the background.

The third tablet returns to Jerusalem, a map of the various ethnic group quarters reflecting the former richly multi-cultural life of this city. In the foreground, olive branches are dry, brown, losing their foliage the foundering of hope as the vicious present-day conflict continues. The vials of water, oil and earth/ash beneath each tablet have a similar symbolic reading.

McManus craft and aesthetic is superb, making the installation captivating in its beauty and ambience, but the complex ideas and histories she is working with are not fully realised in the installation itself, which seems a problem.

In this sense her assembled porcelain hands, imprinted with a rich array of imagery and text from the Christian, Islamic and Jewish traditions that have lived cheek by jowl for so long in Jerusalem and the Middle East, are more successful.

It's not necessary to know the source of all the imagery on the hands even though it is interesting to find out to grasp the work's proposition and to feel its weight in the contemporary international context.
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