Familiar Phantoms at The Whitworth

Maja Lorkowska, Exhibitions Editor
Image courtesy of The Whitworth

Familiar Phantoms at The Whitworth, Manchester 2 March — 21 May 2023 Entrance is free — 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 2 March — 21 May 2023 Entrance is free Visit now

What's on at The Whitworth

Where to go near Familiar Phantoms at The Whitworth

Bar or Pub
Big Hands

Big Hands is the one-time haunt of legendary Manchester band Elbow; it’s shabby, loud and dark, with a jukebox and excellent roof terrace.

The Giving Tree
The Giving Tree

The Giving Tree is a cafe and community hub based in Rusholme, a short walk from the city centre.

Pankhurst Centre
The Pankhurst Centre

The Pankhurst Centre houses a small museum and heritage centre that remains as a legacy to the Pankhurst family and the Suffragette movement born in this city.

Christie’s Bistro, Manchester. Courtesy Christie’s Bistro
Café or Coffee Shop
Christie’s Bistro

This wood-panelled former science library – part of a cluster of neo-Gothic buildings designed for the University of Manchester by Alfred Waterhouse (he of Manchester Town Hall and London’s Natural History Museum fame) – has a wonderfully bookish interior that turns lunch into something of an event.

Whitworth Park, Manchester
Whitworth Park

This 18-acre park opposite the Manchester Royal Infirmary provides a welcome patch of green in an otherwise densely populated and heavily used part of the city.

Cafe at the Museum
Café or Coffee Shop
The Cafe
at the Museum

Manchester Museum’s cafe is run by the people behind award-winning cafe Teacup Kitchen. The menu features home-baked cakes, the finest loose leaf teas and breakfast, as well as a wide selection of mains and meals for kids.

Music venue
Manchester Academy 3

Brilliant venue for catching a touring band on the rise. The boringly titled Academy 3 or more interesting Hop and Grape, as it was once known, is a self contained…

What's on: Exhibitions

Culture Guides

Music in Manchester and the North

Fresh concert seasons, forward-thinking festivals and a revolving door of amazing gigs. Things are looking bright as spring comes into view.

Exhibitions in Manchester and the North

February is a month of love so art lovers in the North - rejoice! There is lots to choose from: two photography festivals, gorgeous crafts and shows celebrating local talent.