War Prayer shows a Muslim woman with her head covered by a white veil kneeling on the floor in prayer. While the steady shot of the woman never changes, the images are worked on by the artist so that they appear fuzzy and tend to form abstract patterns, as in a kaleidoscope. The written text superimposed on this at regular intervals consists of passages from Mark Twain’s War Prayer, dictated in 1904 as a response to the Philippine-American War of 1899–902 but not published until 1910, after the writer’s death, due to its highly critical tone. The soundtrack, marked by the high-pitched buzzing of a fly hovering around the woman, creates a threatening atmosphere.
As in other works such as De_Lete (2001), Jenny Marketou uses the possibility of the technical alienation of sound and image to make a concrete image abstract and transform it into a universal message.
Image, sound and text thus combine to express a comment on the attitude of the United States toward terrorism. The work by Mark Twain, where God is asked to visit suffering and destruction upon our adversaries, is initially taken to be a translation of the woman’s prayer. Her clothing and invocation together with the attitude toward the enemy expressed in the written words, which we assume to be hers, trigger widespread Western prejudices against the Islamic world. The fact that this is a Christian rather than Muslim prayer is only revealed by the presence of antiquated English words and the “Amen” at the end of the video. The roles are thus confused also in the spectator’s mind. The aggressive patriotism of the text, to which the woman appears to bow down, is suddenly seen as reflecting Western policy.
Jenny Marketou (Athens, 1954) has been artist in residence at the Banff Center for the Arts (Canada) and the Media Center d’Art i Disseny in Barcelona. Her projects have been presented within the framework of solo shows at the Kunsthalle in Basel, the Centre of Contemporary Art in Salonika and the São Paulo Biennial. She has also taken part in groups exhibitions at venues such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the ZKM Centre for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, the Kunsthalle in Düsseldorf, the Centro Nacional Museo de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid and the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. Jenny Marketou lives and works in New York and Athens.