At Casa by Chloë Manasseh, expect to see dream-like botanical patterns and motifs, expansive views of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, intense blues that recall the Majorelle Garden of Marrakech in Morocco, and even goats in an argan tree. Beyond their beauty, it also serves as a visual ode to British artist and art psychotherapist Chloë Manasseh’s Sephardic roots in Morocco. (“Casa”, meaning “home” in Spanish, is coincidentally a nickname for Casablanca.)
Of her latest solo exhibition, which has been extended till 9 May 2021 at Art Porters Gallery, Manasseh says: “I was trying to navigate such an important series of work and I felt as if I had put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself because it’s something so personal to me. But I ended up starting the work and thinking, ‘Oh dear, goats in a tree. How is this going to bring across my message?’”
But Manasseh is no stranger to delving into family history through her art practice: her previous exhibition The Fruitfulness of Forgetting was shown in 2019 at Eden Hall in Singapore. The building was where her paternal grandfather and renowned British architect Leonard Manasseh was born. It is now home to the British High Commissioner in Singapore.
“My heritage, my roots, my experience of landscape, whether it’s familial or not, has always inspired the work,” says Manasseh. “In that sense, my entire body of work, however different it may feel, is quite similar: it’s exploring the same themes, it’s something that continues to interest me and it’s constant research and exploration.”
Manasseh’s research has taken her to India, where her Baghdadi Jewish paternal forebears had come through before moving to the UK. Meanwhile, her mother’s extended family travelled from Morocco to the US and Canada instead of immigrating to Israel, as her mother had.
“They have a different narrative, but technically we’re all from the same place,” Manasseh shares. “It feeds my work: the idea of how you set down roots, because everyone is so rooted in their immediate environment.”
And while Manasseh has only lived in Singapore for four years, her connection to the city extends through generations. Works for The Fruitfulness of Forgetting were inspired by stories she’d heard from her grandfather and great-aunt about their time growing up in Singapore. “They described it as an exotic junglescape and it sounded amazing. [Now] I live in Singapore and it’s a modern city, with a curated jungle,” she says.
Little wonder she’s learnt “that memory is quite imprecise, and it’s the experience you’ve had of the event or place that essentially creates that memory, and it can be good or bad depending on the experience”.
And she decided to tap into that while working on her solo exhibition Casa. “My perception of Morocco is very much shaped by my family’s perception, even though I didn’t experience it directly,” Manasseh admits. “But [it’s] that kind of idea of collective familial memory and how that affects the way that you connect to a place.”
Casa by Chloë Manasseh runs until 9 May 2021 at Art Porters Gallery.