Familiar Phantoms at The Whitworth

Part of our Exhibitions guide

Maja Lorkowska, Exhibitions Editor
Image courtesy of The Whitworth

Familiar Phantoms at The Whitworth, Manchester, Until 21 May 2023, free entry - Visit now

The Whitworth welcomes a brand new work by Larissa Sansour and Søren Lind’s Familiar Phantoms is a major new commission and perhaps Sansour’s most intimate film to date.

Sansour and Lind’s oeuvre often focuses on ideas of national identity, belonging and ancestry as well as individual, collective and inherited memory. Familiar Phantoms explores these themes in direct relation to the artist’s family history in Palestine and Russia. The turbulent changes and the trauma of war and migration are explored here with exquisitely evocative imagery.

Set to a backdrop of an abandoned mansion, the film begins in 1916, when Sansour’s great-grandfather fled Palestine to avoid capture and conscription by Ottoman troops to fight in the First World War. The film then chronicles the family’s life in Sansour’s great-grandfather’s absence.

Moving forward in time, we travel through Moscow and eventually return to Bethlehem where we are faced with the artist’s own childhood memories and where different characters guide us through the story. Curator Leanne Green describes how “memory and the unreliability of memory is really key in this. Sansour recounts stories that are personal to her: there’s a local milkman that looks like Lionel Richie, and French nuns running the Catholic school, and a young Sansour burning political leaflets – sometimes these are real experiences, sometimes stories about stories and sometimes stories that belong to others. That sense of the haziness of collective family memory is universal.”

Visually, Familiar Phantoms includes material from her personal archive, Super 8 footage and photographs, jumping through time and providing glimpses of the unreliable nature of remembering. The single-screen, surround-sound setting for the film contributes to the immersive experience.

Image courtesy of The Whitworth


Familiar Phantoms may be a particularly personal piece but Green emphasises that the piece “leaves a lot of space for viewers to connect with it in a personal way. There is a sense of the collective nostalgia that we all generate within our family histories and the through the relationship between the past and our own present.”

If you’ve recently visited other exhibitions in the North, you may have come across another one of Sansour and Lind’s films: As If No Misfortune Had Occurred in the Night (2022) at FACT Liverpool – a lamentation of the sorrows of war, displacement and inherited trauma. Other notable works include In Vitro (2019), Monument for Lost Time (2019) and Revisionist Production Line (2016).

These pieces and the artists’ work as a whole reveal the ways in which personal identity is shaped by geo-political events and how our ancestors’ experiences imprint themselves on our own lives. The resulting works are polished, refined and often heartbreakingly beautiful. Familiar Phantoms’ emotional weight is sure to make for memorable viewing, captivating audiences in its air of nostalgia and otherworldliness.

Familiar Phantoms was jointly commissioned by The Whitworth and Film and Video Umbrella with support from IMMA.

Familiar Phantoms at The Whitworth, Manchester

Until 21 May 2023
Free entry