Justine Youssef’s auto-ethnographic films and installations explore the impacts of displacement and prompt us to consider our complicity in creating it. Relationships to land and the endurance of rituals and beliefs are key ideas for the Darug/Sydney-based artist.
A multi-sensory installation, Somewhat Eternal encompasses video, textiles, text, and scent. The central work—a three-channel video shot in Lebanon—shows the artist’s aunt performing R’sasa, or molybdomancy, a traditional alchemic practice of clearing the evil eye. For generations, the artist’s family have used their knowledge of the local mountains and ecology to survive famine and military occupation and to heal everyday ailments and misfortunes.
From 1982 to 2000, parts of Lebanon were under Israeli occupation. The lead used in R’sasa is often extracted from bullets still found in the region. Through this material connection, Youssef asks us to consider colonisation as a curse that inhabits and influences social and cultural life.
Throughout the installation, embroidered textiles are scented with plant hydrosols—aromatic waters produced by steam distillation of plants—using a process the artist inherited matrilineally. Here, Youssef has substituted commonly used plants with others chosen for their complex relationships to land subjugation, occupation, and renewal.
Somewhat Eternal expands from familial narratives to consider broader social and political currents, revealing the connections between human displacement and ecology. Within these acts of ritual and preservation, now fragmented and altered across geographies, lies a belief in the alternatives they offer us.