‘Have Your Photograph Taken as an Ottoman Princess’

The installation piece ‘Have Your Picture Taken as an Ottoman Princess’ was a long time in the making, and it’s taken even longer than expected to get it exhibited. Luckily, there are some other very supportive women out there who are making an effort to install the exhibit in an appropriate setting.

The piece deals with violence against women, specifically about domestic violence in Turkey, and more specifically about the common practice of Turkish courts’ reducing sentences for men who have murdered their wives; the reductions are ostensibly because the men were ‘unjustly provoked’, but in practice the effect is to almost justify murder as an acceptable response when a woman ‘steps out of line’. That ‘provocation’ – or ‘stepping out of line’ – can be as simple as wearing a pair of jeans.

The other issue that the piece deals with is how women are perceived according to what they wear. Clothes are part of how we – men or women – define our identity, and they reflect both personal choice as well as the society of which we are a part. In Turkey, one item of women’s clothing, the ‘headscarf’, polarized society when it appeared that women would no longer be banned from wearing headscarves in certain public places, most signficantly universities and government offices. On one hand were those who believed this to be a step forward for women’s rights, on the other hand were those who believed it was a step towards greater subjugation of women through the erosion of secularism. It seemed that there were very few people who did not see this as an ‘either/or issue’, and this one item of clothing became the overriding factor in how a woman’s attire affected her perceived identity.

By presenting women in a variety of outfits that represent a variety of ‘types’ of women you might see anywhere in Turkey, and by allowing visitors to the exhibit (men as well as women) to literally place themselves in these (imaginary) women’s places, I am aiming to raise the level of empathy for people (women) who we think of as being ‘different than us’, and, hopefully, to raise awareness about the fact that violence against women is something that affects all women simply because they are women, regardless of any other aspect of their identity .

Below are some photos of the process of developing the ‘figures’ – each of which are backed by words.

The state of my work table on August 7 - beginning sketches for 'Ottoman Princess'
The color photocopy on the right-hand-side of my work table is something I put together to get ideas for the different outfits. Once I decided what I wanted these to be, I took a bunch more photos to use as references in working up pencil sketches (you can see several of them on the table). These got turned into watercolor drawings, which I eventually had blown up into the life-sized figures.

So here’s me being a princess:

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And here’s the watercolor:

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And the life-sized figure…

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You can see the space cut out for visitors to put their face in and have their picture taken. The back of this figure has some explanatory text abou the exhibit, and behind the other figures are the stories of women who were victims of domestic violence:

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If you are interested in more pictures of the piece, you can also check out some of the blog posts on the project ‘Ottoman Princess’ elsewhere on this site…)