New exhibition at Leeds Arts University showcases the work of international artist, researcher and filmmaker Marwa Arsanios

A new exhibition by international artist, filmmaker and researcher Marwa Arsanios has opened at Leeds Arts University. Yvette Huddleston reports.

Marwa Arsanios, video still from Micro Resistencias, part of the Who Is Afraid of Ideology? exhibition at Leeds Arts University.
Marwa Arsanios, video still from Micro Resistencias, part of the Who Is Afraid of Ideology? exhibition at Leeds Arts University.

For its first exhibition since forced closure due to the pandemic, Leeds Arts University gallery has reopened with a thought-provoking, multi-layered show from acclaimed international artist, filmmaker and researcher Marwa Arsanios.

Who Is Afraid of Ideology? brings together all four parts of Arsanios’ film of the same title alongside a tapestry piece in a timely exhibition that showcases the artist’s engagement with eco-feminist communities.

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Born in America in 1978, Arsanios divides her time living and working between Berlin and Beirut. Her creative practice reconsiders mid-20th-century politics from a contemporary perspective; she approaches her research and projects collaboratively and is particularly interested in women’s lived experiences and anti-colonial struggles. “We feel very honoured to be hosting this exhibition,” says curator Dr Marianna Tsionki. “I have been in conversation with Marwa for many years and we have often spoken about collaborating, so it is very exciting that she was able to accept our invitation.”

Arsanios has been working on this particular film project for over five years and this is the first time that the complete quadrilogy has been shown in the UK. In Parts 1 & 2 she addresses forms of self-governance that have emerged from the Kurdish women’s movement, Part 3 Micro Resistencias focusses on global corporations’ war against seeds, while Part 4 A Letter Inside a Letter explores issues around inheritance, ownership, property and value. “One of the recurring themes of Marwa’s work is how those feminist communities have a different understanding of nature and natural resources,” says Tsionki. “It is very much related to the needs of surviving rather than the needs of accumulating profit. It is an important aspect of her work that really challenges neo-liberal understanding of the natural world and exploitation.”

Alongside the films, the show features a tapestry that Arsanios created with a feminist collective in Syria. “It is a really beautiful textile work,” says Tsionki. “Marwa’s whole methodology is based on engaging with the communities she works with and developing a relationship and understanding with them. When one of those tapestries becomes part of a collection the fee from its acquisition goes back to the community that developed it.”

Arsanios is an inspiring example of how a collaborative creative practice and thoughtful research can help lay the foundations for social and political change. By challenging accepted notions of land ownership and exploitation, her artwork and community engagement presents hopeful alternative ways of living in harmony with nature.

“We have had a very positive response to the exhibition so far,” says Tsionki. “For us, of course, we are interested both in how the audience in the city is responding to it but also in terms of the university community and the students, it is important to see how they are engaging with the exhibition programme – and we have had really great responses from students visiting the show.

“It operates on multiple levels and it is so timely. We are excited to be sharing this intriguing work and continuing to be a space for encounter and dialogue.”

At Leeds Arts University until July 23. Monday-Saturday 10am-4pm. Free and open to all.