(Preparations for the installation “Have Your Photograph Taken as an Ottoman Princess”)
So, the goal was to have a bunch of different ‘types’ of women to represent the range of women that you might see on any day on any given street anywhere in Turkey. In fact, you probably wouldn’t see all of them on the same street at the same time, but you might; I’ve seen all these ‘types’ myself, so I know.
Let’s be clear here: There’s a difference between ‘archetype’ and ‘stereotype’. I really started to notice that when I began working on the sketches in more detail, and felt that there was a certain direction I should be going in – more accurately, that there was a certain direction I shouldn’t be going in. The only difference between ‘archetype’ and ‘stereotype’ might be that an archetype has no negative connotations and a stereotype does. I certainly don’t want to be a stereotype. The problem is how to tell one from the other. I wanted make sure that each ‘princess’ was a different type without being a stereotype, but how? And why?
I’ll open up these 2 topics in a minute, but first, to quickly address the issues of ‘why “princess”?‘ and ‘why “Ottoman” Princess?’:
- The ‘Princess’ (and certainly not the Turkish ‘prenses’) in ‘Ottoman Princess’ does not refer to a member of a royal family, it refers to ‘what we call little girls’. It suggests a lot of things, and I hope here it evokes two opposite ideas: first, the idea of being ‘special and privileged’ and second, the idea of being ‘frail and in need of protection’. In either case, the ‘princess’ is NOT real. And it’s important to realize that ALL THE PRINCESSES ARE BASED ON REAL WOMEN, BUT NONE OF THEM ARE REAL WOMEN.
- The ‘Ottoman’ (‘Osmanlı’- from the ‘Royal House of Osman’) in ‘Ottoman Princess’ is not connected with any contemporary sociopolitical effort to distinguish between ‘Ottomans’ and ‘Turks’. The idea to use the image of a 19th-century ‘Ottoman’ woman along with 21st-century ‘Turkish’ women came from the fact that the original engravings of Ottoman women were NOT images of REAL women: they were images of a Western fantasy of Eastern women; in other words, they were filled with ‘ideas’ about ‘others’: They were saying (in a visual language), ‘THIS WOMAN IS SOMEONE WHO I AM NOT.’
So, now that that’s out there, back to the questions of why I want to present images of ‘not-stereotypes’ and how I am going to do it.
Why: because (as the 19th-century Western male artists and publishers of ‘Ottoman Princesses’ probably knew), it’s easy to dismiss someone who is ‘other’ (read: inferior, mistaken). It is less easy to step into their shoes (or in the case of my installation, into their clothes) and try to see what it is that you have in common with them, try to understand them. I think that is important, but I don’t think it’s easy; heck, I don’t understand all the princesses, and I’m the one making them!
Interestingly, the PROCESS of making them is helping me to understand them. I wonder if this is what a novel-writer goes through when s/he invents a character. I am sitting with these sketches on my work table, and I am trying to understand, ‘WHO IS THIS WOMAN?’
One princess seems to ‘want’ to have her hair coiffed up (Trying to impress someone? Or forced into a social role?), another has short hair (Easier to handle? Oh, my god, is she a lesbian with a buzz cut??), a couple of princesses have cell phones in their hands (at the moment; I’m still not sure if this ubiquitous 21st-century is going to be replaced with something else), and one has got a garden tool and some kind of vegetable (at least she will; or maybe she’ll be holding some weeds. I can’t decide yet).
Interestingly, the easiest woman for me to draw has been the one who is covered in black from head to toe. It’s easier for me, because I don’t have to decide what she’s got on underneath; I don’t need to know if she’s wearing high heels or sneakers (or high-heeled sneakers), a high-buttoned blouse or a sleeveless t-shirt… In short, she’s the ‘princess’ I least understand. She’s also the one I LEAST want to be. I must admit, I am having a hard time feeling any empathy for her. I don’ particularly like her – which is strange to say, because I’ve already admitted that I don’t really know her. If I don’t know her, how can I say I don’t like her?
And there in a nutshell is what this is about.
(I’ll be posting more on this project here. If you’re interested, be sure to “follow’ this blog. You can also “follow” the Ottoman Princess blog to see what happens after the exhibit opens (‘more to come’), and sign up to the Ottoman Princess facebook page for all types of related information (which you can add to as well).