Justine Youssef 'Somewhat Eternal'

Rebecca Varidel
12th Sep 2023

Somewhat Eternal
Justine Youssef
Curators: Stella Rosa McDonald, Tulleah Pearce, Patrice Sharkey
3 October – 24 November 2023

Relationships to land and the endurance of ritual and belief are central to the work of artist Justine Youssef. Since graduating from the National Art School in 2018, Youssef has been included in high profile local and international programs including the Hawai’i Triennale (2022); Primavera, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (2021); and Eucalyptusdom, Powerhouse Museum (2022). She was the subject of a solo exhibition at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art (2018) and recipient of the Copyright Agency’s John Fries Award (2019).

Youssef’s auto-ethnographic films and installations reflect upon the impacts of displacement through forced migration, and consider our complicity in the reproduction of these conditions. For generations, the artist’s family have used their knowledge of the mountains and ecology of Qaḑā' Bšarrī, Lebanon to survive famine and military occupation, and heal everyday ailments and misfortunes. Today, these restorative practices continue at a distance with the materials at hand; over WhatsApp calls with cousins in Australia, using lead from bullets that are abundant in the region.

Somewhat Eternal (2023) takes form as a multi-sensory installation that draws narrative focus on matrilineal practices and plant histories through new work using scent, video and textiles.

Co-commissioned by UTS Gallery, the Institute of Modern Art and Adelaide Contemporary Experimental, the exhibition opens at UTS Gallery on 3 October 2023, before touring to the IMA and ACE in 2024. The new work commission is supported by Creative Australia’s VACS Major Commissioning Fund and The National Art School.

Co-curator Patrice Sharkey, Artistic Director of Adelaide Contemporary Experimental says, ‘ACE is delighted to be partnering on this important solo commission. As an artist on the rise, Justine Youssef possesses a remarkable capacity for critical reflection and world-making. It makes sense for three of Australia’s leading contemporary art galleries to join forces to deliver her latest project.'

Central to the newly commissioned work is a three-channel video documenting a family Elder in Qaḑā' Bšarrī, Lebanon performing r’sasa, or molybdomancy, an alchemic practice of clearing the ‘evil eye’ using molten lead. Youssef returned to Lebanon to document and participate in the practice.

Drawing on familial narratives, Somewhat Eternal expands to consider how states of refuge can uphold cycles of dispossession. Embroidered textiles throughout the exhibition tell of the use of plants in practices of occupation, resettlement, and repair. The textiles are infused with aromatic waters distilled from three significant plants—the Blessed Milk Thistle, Burnet Rose, and Lebanese Cedar—using a process the artist has inherited matrilineally.

Co-curator Stella Rosa McDonald, Curator UTS Gallery, says "Justine Youssef’s quietly subversive work considers the ways that inherited practices are preserved, fragmented and altered across geographies. Her work prompts us to look closely at the world around us and search for a better future. UTS Gallery is proud to partner on this co-commission and support an early-career artist to create ambitious new work for national audiences."

Publication: Somewhat Eternal

Somewhat Eternal is accompanied by a forthcoming illustrated book featuring new writing by Latoya Aroha Rule, Mykaela Saunders, Chi Tran, and the curators, published by Adelaide Contemporary Experimental and designed by Žiga Testen with support from the Gordon Darling Foundation.

About the artist

Justine Youssef’s work often begins with moments and places that reconfigure authoritative realities, most recently exhibiting with the Hawai’i Triennial, O’ahu (2022);  Powerhouse Museum, Sydney (2022) and Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2021). She lives across Wangal and Dharug Countries in Sydney, Australia, where she was a Parramatta Artist Studios resident (2018-21) and a recipient of the Copyright Agency’s John Fries Award (2019).

UTS Gallery

University of Technology Sydney

Level 4, Building 5, 702 Harris Street

Ultimo, Sydney