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”: Head Shots

More on the process behind my latest installation, “Have Your Photograph Taken as an Ottoman Princess” (with more background below in my previous posts. 

Most of ‘the Princesses’ are now beyond the sketching stage, getting onto the watercolor stage, and a few of them are on the computer already, getting ready to be blown up to life-size.

For that, I was down at the sign shop last week to go over the process, trying to find the best way to blow them up to get the look that I want. Unfortunately, it is not a straightforward process (would that it were!). The ‘Princess’ I’ve named ‘Sunglasses’ (for file-finding purposes) has been the one I’ve been using for try-outs:

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Zeynep at the sign shop was skeptical about the size of the ‘face opening’, but after she tried it out she agreed that it was not ‘too small’ as she had feared.

Zeynep also thinks the image is fine the way it is, but I think it is a little too ‘cartoony’, when I was really going for ’19th-century engraving’- so that’s going to change.

But more interesting than the printing has been the response to people trying on ‘the princess mask’. Two things stood out there:

  1. I was over a friend’s house, and her gardener was one of the people there who tried on the mask. Next thing I know, I get an email from my friend that has her gardener’s son’s email address, and could I please send the photo to him? Her gardener, who, I am guessing, is not a regular art-gallery patron, is looking forward to visiting the Bodrum Biennial so he can see ‘what this is all about’. (I call that a ‘positive outcome’, and the exhibit doesn’t even start for another month!)
  2.  I was over at the Bodrum Castle to figure out exactly where the installation needs to go (based on, among other considerations, things like where do the tourist groups congregate and where is the ground not ancient paving stone). While I was there, I was introduced to a family, and my friend asked them if anyone wanted to try on the ‘princess mask’. Out of 8 people, the first one to want to try on the mask was the oldest child – who happened to be a boy. His father promptly said that this was ‘not for him’, that it was for his sister. I promptly corrected that: I said the ‘princess’ was not a real person, and that anyone – male or female – could try out ‘being the princess’. For proof, I showed them the following:

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Harun as ‘Princess With Incipient Beard’.
Or maybe ‘1970s Rock Star’ ?

For more on ‘the Ottoman Princess’, you can click here to get to the Facebook Page.

A TYPE OF SKETCHING, A SKETCHING OF TYPE

A TYPE OF SKETCHING, A SKETCHING OF TYPE

(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.

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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?’:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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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).

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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).

Ottoman Princess : The Blog

Update: My latest installation – “Have Your Photograph Taken as an Ottoman Princess” – will be included in the upcoming Bodrum Biennial opening on 12 September.

In addition to information about the project (in Turkish and English), the Ottoman Princess blog will post news about violence against women in general (unfortunately there is a lot of that) as well as artwork addressing the issue. (Since there appears to be more bad news than good news, I would particularly welcome contributions of good news from anyone who has any. The best way to pass on this news is by joining the Ottoman Princess facebook page (in Turkish and English) and posting there, and I’ll repost to the blog.)

People who visit the exhibition and have their photos taken as an Ottoman Princess will also be able to post them on the facebook page, and I’ll repost to the blog, so that they’ll form a running exhibition catalog.

Finally… Since I try to give a high priority to ‘demystifying’ what it is that artists do, I’ll try to post ongoing information about the process of putting together the exhibition. For the background information on the exhibition, you can go to the Indiegogo Ottoman Princess page. The project is already funded (thanks to all who donated), but the site will be up through the 15th of August, which is the official end of the fundraising campaign, and it has the most detailed information to date.

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I’ll be posting here on this blog, so please ‘follow’ if you want to get the updates on the proect, and then I’ll either be linking or reposting to the Ottoman Princess (have to get the ‘technical details’ worked out on that).

And as they say somewhere, ‘Thank you for your interest.’

Women in Art

The following  pictures are from the installation titled ‘2000 Women’ from 2000 that featured 2000 drawings of naked women. The drawings were all copies of about 7 classic nude images from artists ranging from Reubens to Degas.

After the exhibit, I thought that a better title might be ‘Backfired’.

2000 women installation shot
(unfortunately, best resolution I’ve got – sorry…)

That’s because the original intent of this piece – together with ‘Nü-Nar’ (‘Nude-Pomegranate’), another installation in the British Council’s gallery in Ankara – was to raise the issue of the commodification of women through art.

With 2000 women, I thought that the entire piece would turn into a giant abstract work that would in some sense supersede the individual drawings (200 per month over a 10-month period, 50/week, Mon-Friday, 10/day). In a sense it did, but in a sense, it did not. Horny men still expressed the most interest in the big-busted blondes, whereas they had less appreciation for well-drawn feet and faces.

I thought I would post these today, 4 days after a young woman in the southern Turkish city of Mersin was murdered by a would-be rapist.

The first photo below is another exhibition shot, but the next 2 are pictures of some tea trays I decorated using parts of some drawings that had been in the exhibition. Over the weekend, I had a box of about 200 of the drawings on sale at an open-air Bazaar in Turgutreis that hoped to breathe some life into the dead downtown of a tourist trap in winter and earn some money for some women trying to improve their economic circumstances.

Money – Sex – Violence – Power.

These are the things that ‘art’ messes with.

In the meantime, my husband and I happily celebrated Valentine’s Day with a dinner out on the town:
I’d rather celebrate love than excoriate hate.

Let’s see how to ‘tag’ this one, folks.

 

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Tray- Caryatids

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