Severed Heads

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This beautiful work by an art student in New York  and my wish to share it with you has finally put an end to my procrastination.

After the hectic energy and motion involved in getting together my most recent bit of installation art, “Have Your Photograph Taken as an Ottoman Princess”; followed by total paralysis in response to the piece’s sudden removal from the Bodrum Biennial under mysterious and rather disturbing circumstances; and a gradual thaw that involved slow travels along the Mediterranean coast and fast times with friends and family in New York, which, gratefully, brought me back to myself… well, let’s just say, things are back to normal – if you can call editing a magazine, writing a grant proposal and cooking a Turkey – all at the same time – normal.

A propos this posting, the grant proposal had to do with a project for a workshop on ‘community arts’ here in Bodrum. That idea was prompted by the experience of putting together the ‘Ottoman Princess’ exhibit – and then having it taken down. As a piece designed to raise awareness about violence against women – all kinds of women – and the Turkish legal system’s tacit acceptance of this violence through court decisions that reduce the sentences of the perpetrators (usually husbands/ex-husbands and boyfriends/ex-boyfriends), I thought I would have the support of women in realizing this exhibition. In fact, I had a lot of women – as well as men – support the piece financially, but finding a woman’s advocacy group willing to contribute to the content of the piece was difficult. Moreover, it eventually became clear to me that the decision to remove the piece was due to a combination of fear and mistrust – by women!

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Luckily, however, there have been a few women (you know who you are) who have given me the encouragement to try and find another place to exhibit the work and, just as important, if not more important, to continue doing work that keeps me in the world rather than just in my studio, and to encourage others to do the same.

Reading up on ‘community arts’ confirmed my belief that there are two things that art is really good for. The first is self-expression, and the second is community expression. A lot of times, the second type of expression comes more in the form of ‘expression about community’ than ‘self-expression by members of the community’, but when you manage to get both of those things together, well, there you’ve really got aesthetics in the original sense of the word, which had as much to do with moral satisfaction as it did with sensual satisfaction.

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Back to where this post started out: the clay sculptures created by students in the Forensic Sculpture Workshop, a class offered through the New York Academy of Arts’ Continuing Education program, are reconstructed facsimiles of unidentified crime victims that “capture the likenesses of unknown citizens who faced cruel and untimely deaths from a variety of gruesome circumstances” created by students and displayed in the university’s windows in the “hopes that someone walking by the university windows will see a face and recognize it.” As the program’s director explained to the Huffington Post, the program is “the perfect marriage of art and science. Having students use art and their extensive knowledge of anatomy for a bigger purpose and real world application to help the community at large was an opportunity worth waiting for and one we hope to replicate for years to come.”

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I find poetic the fact that the ‘community’ being represented here is a community that, up until these art students became involved, had lacked representation in the literal as well as the figurative sense of the word.

And I’m impressed that this all took place in a continuing education program. Presumably, all the students in the class could have chosen to take a sculpture class that would have allowed them the opportunity to focus more on their own self-expression, but instead they chose to focus on the expression of someone else.

To read the Huffington Post’s story about the program, click here.

Princesses at the Castle

Have you had a chance to see my piece “Have Your Photograph Taken as an Ottoman Princess” on exhibit at the Bodrum Castle as part of the 2nd International Bodrum Biennial? Well, you won’t any time soon – despite the fact that my name is still on the list of participating artists on the biennial website and has been on the blog of the exhibit since way back at the beginning of July.

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The pictures above are from the “Princesses” very first hours at the castle – and also their very last.

Whether or not their removal was a matter of censorship or just a bureaucratic fuckup is still unclear; however, eventually I intend to get to the bottom of this…

“Ottoman Princess”: 9 Lives

So I suppose I ought to post ‘the princesses’.

These are the 9 sketches that are being transformed into life-sized models as we speak (well, ok, it’s 8 o’clock on a Saturday night, so there is probably no one at Show Reklam working at this very moment – but Monday afternoon I’m supposed to go and check them out, so I guess it’s fair to say that they are almost ready. Inşallah.)

If you’ve been following the project so far, then you know that the original ‘Ottoman Princess’ in this installation was designed based on an Orientalist engraving from the 19th century. We had a little group discussion regarding how to ‘dress up’ the version in this installation, and based on that discussion, she ended up looking like this:

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I particularly like her ruby necklace and her turquiose shalvar. She’s in the same pose as the first engraving I had picked to use as a sketch, but I like her better because she looks to me ‘more realistic’. Just what that means is a bit confusing, because, in fact, she’s a totally made-up character.

But then all identities are ‘made-up’, aren’t they?

This is one of the things that I wanted to point out with this installation.

In fact, one of the most difficult things was making up only eight identities; I had to set a limit somewhere, due to space as well as costs, and 8 seemed like a good number. The idea was to have four of the women wearing a head covering and the other four not. But there are so many reasons why women may ‘cover themselves’ – and so many ways of doing it, from a traditional village headscarf (that you don’t need to be a Muslim woman to wear)

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to full ‘black chador’ – an extreme form of dress for a woman – and something that is not all that common in Turkey – but not all that uncommon, either.

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That extreme form of religious dress is something that a lot of ‘secular’ Muslim women get pretty upset about; the worst fear: that someone (or some government) will force me to do this.

At the opposite extreme, there’s definitely a prejudice that equates an ‘uncovered’ woman as a whore – and that doesn’t make distinctions; in other words, dress like this:

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or like this:

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or like this:

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or like this:

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and you are immoral.

From the pictures, I think you will be able to make the judgement that all these uncovered women are different types – or, better, have different identities; in fact, the same woman may adopt a different ‘persona’ – i.e. ‘identity’ – on a different occasion (opening party? office work? shopping and a movie? a hike in the woods?) that is reflected in what she wears.

The possibiliities are endless; for the installation ‘Have Your Photograph Taken as an Ottoman Princess’, I just tried to pair up ‘covered’ and ‘uncovered’ versions from ‘casual’ to ‘extreme’. This is what I ended up with: all the women above, plus two more:

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and

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And while none of these women are ‘really real’, they are all ‘sort of real’ – or, better ‘could be real’ – they could be on the streets of Bodrum or Ankara or Nevşehir – all places where I’ve lived, and where I’ve seen ‘women like them’.

In just about 2 weeks, it’ll be time to try out these women in public at the Bodrum Castle as pat of the Bodrum Biennial – to give other women (and men, and girls, and boys) the chance to see what they would look like ‘as’ these women.

Of course, just trying on someone else’s clothes (so to speak) doesn’t mean you know what it’s like to ‘be’ them (not to mention that it would be pretty hard to know what it’s like to be someone who isn’t real).

Still… the possibility to see yourself differently – or see someone else differently…