Oraib Toukan


Painless May, June cut to the heart
Curated by Regina Mamou

Oraib Toukan’s Painless May, June cut to the heart (2011) is an ongoing project that re-presents photographs depicting a couple’s travels throughout various locations in Europe from 1967 to 1970. The selected images, a collection of amateur Kodak snapshots belonging to Toukan’s family, situate the viewer in seemingly apolitical scenes of repose. The paradox of the situation manifests itself in the observation of dates printed on the images’ borders and the recognizable tourist locations that correspond to the period of rioting across Europe during the late 1960s.

Painless May, June cut to the heart, whose title is taken from the opening scene of Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Petit Soldat (1960), occupies both a purposeful and mundane space that unfolds in the sequencing of the main characters. Through the reproduction and reassembly of the collection, Toukan draws attention to the dates by allowing them to serve as signifiers for the viewer, weighting the images in a specific historical framework. Her interest in presenting the repetitive act of picture-taking at the convergence of insurrectionary and touristic moments draws back an invisible curtain to reveal issues of mobility, class, and ideology.

As an artist who was raised in Amman, Jordan and is currently based in New York City, Toukan regularly travels between the United States and the Middle East. There is an easy analogy that can be made between Toukan’s work and the current events of the Arab Spring and global protests of 2011. But, Toukan is careful to explain that “politics is not this separate exotic other . . . the year of 2011 has finally proven that the project of studying ‘the political’ as separate from the aesthetic object [is] a banal one.” As she combed through her archive she found images taken by the couple in Europe depicting ancient ruins while elsewhere sections of the city were burning in uprisings. She continued, “I was specifically interested in how the dates sway the images into a . . . historic period that is the antithesis of the images.” Toukan added that this kind of disaffirmation of a revolutionary experience is “like watching Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and responding, ‘You saw nothing in Hiroshima. Nothing.’”

All images are Untitled from the series Painless May, June cut to the heart(2011).

Oraib Toukan works across media in a process she likes to term ‘mimicry-as-method.’ Participation, appropriation, referentiality, and institutional interventions under the radar are typical of her practice. Recent exhibitions include the Hordaland Kunstsenter Bergen (2011), NGBK/Kunstraum Bethanien Berlin (2010), the Serpentine Gallery Map Marathon (2010), the Irish Museum of Contemporary Art (2010), Iniva London (2010), and the 11th Istanbul Biennial (2009). With a background in photography, Toukan has an MFA (interdisciplinary) from Bard College as well as an MA in systems thinking from the University of London. Oraib was raised in Jordan, is based in New York, and teaches in Palestine at Bard College and the International Academy of Art. website 

Regina Mamou is a Chicago-based visual artist and independent curator and writer. She holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design. She received a Fulbright Fellowship to Jordan (2009–2010), and has recently exhibited her work at Action Field Kodra 11th Exhibition of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki, Greece (2011) and Makan Art Space, Amman, Jordan (2010). Curatorial projects include Remember Then: An Exhibition on the Photography of Memorythat Mamou co-curated with Scott Patrick Wiener at Harvard University’s Center for Government and International Studies (2011). She has also served as a contributor for ArtAsiaPacific magazine’s Almanac edition. Mamou is currently an adjunct lecturer in the Art Institute of Chicago’s Department of Museum Education. website