BERAL MADRA, "Migration is a creative situation", 2012

In 20th century Turkey has experienced a transformation from an imperial world power to a nation-state. This change came about under a state-programmed modernization and a state controlled economy until the ‘80s. Since then, post-modernism and globalization have acquired all the requisites for neo-capitalism and consumption culture. One of the most intriguing aspects of this controversial and complex transformation has been immigration and emigration due to the decline and fall of the Ottoman Empire as well as due to the Cold war period. The multi-cultured population of the Ottoman Empire and later the dissidents and exiles of the Cold War period immigrated and emigrated for ethnic, political and economic reasons; thus, Turkey’s family lineage has become astonishingly multicultural.
As an art critic and curator active in the arts and in culture scenes since the ‘80s, I have always been involved with women artists’ work and consequently have encountered countless biographies. Their works always reflect the ventures of a protagonist, the thought and actions of women who experienced an ambiguous position and an inevitable socio-political dilemma in such a political and social structure.
The 70 years of state programmed modernization in Turkey, between the years 1900 and 1970, saw the prominence of a small number of female painters distinguished for their tentative but still expressive self portraits, landscapes and still-life work.
Early modernists such as Mihri Müşfik, Hale Asaf or late modernists such as Şükriye Dikmen, Fahrel Nissa Zeid, Aliye Berger, and Füreyya were not considered to be individual avant-garde artists, neither were they seen as competition to men. Rather, these women were regarded as a part of the modernist policy. At the threshold of post-modernism in the ‘70s and in conjunction with the prominence of the Leftist movement, the identity of liberated women became more visible in the political arena as well as in the cultural. Füsun Onur, one of the most significant artists of her time, was creating fragile works that could be defined as Arte Povera.
As neo-liberal investments in art and culture increased with the rise of post-modernism, this improved the possibilities for artists to produce and display their works in galleries and in certain independent spaces. As a result women artists gained more attention due to their audacious works. In the ‘80s Nur Koçak was painting photo realist images of women as fetish-objects, likewise Jale Erzen, Hale Arpacıoğlu and İpek Duben were questioning the body, the soul, the subconscious and the status of the women through their paintings. However, society had not deemed them as a part of the women’s liberation movement or had not regarded them as in search of a new identity. Yet, one should evaluate these works as a pilgrimage, a testimony to representations of the post-modern women’s identity. The manifestations of this new identity surfaced slowly and gradually within the post-modern process; its progress became noticeable in the 90’s with the contributions of artists such as Canan Beykal, Handan Börüteçene, Ayşe Erkmen, İnci Eviner, Gülsün Karamustafa, Canan Tolon, Şükran Aziz, Şükran Moral and Hale Tenger at local and international exhibitions. These people have produced paintings, minimalist or conceptual installations, photography and performances. From the mid 90’s till today, we can state that this process has gained momentum through the participation of a large group of artists with various social
1Vilem Flusser, TheFreedom of the Migrant, trans. KennethKronenberg, University of Illinois Press, 2003,p.10
backgrounds and strong statements of identity. The works of Sermin Sherif, Özgül Arslan, Esra Ersen, Gül Ilgaz, Neriman Polat, Gonca Sezer, Canan Şenol have crossed borders and broken taboos. Since 2000 the global art scene favors women artists and gives a definite priority to their work. The visibility of women artists of today reveals itself in their daring and vigorous performances, photography and video works as well as paintings and wall drawings arranged as installations in the given space. The works of Selda Asal, Yeşim Ağaoğlu, Nazan Azeri, Nancy Atakan, Gülçin Aksoy, Özgül Arslan, Deniz Aygün, Nezaket Ekici, Gül Ilgaz, Aydan Murtazaoğlu, Neriman Polat, Ani Setyan, Canan Şenol, Dilek Winchester, among many others have exposed the taboos around the female body and other gender issues, around daily life and consumption stereotypes, around press and media exploitations and around ethnic or ideological identities, depicting and transposing these through semi-documentary or fictitious video or photography images. A large group of artists living in EU cities and identifying themselves as third generation emigrants are keeping their interest in the Istanbul art scene by keeping in touch with Istanbul artists and curators. In most of their works, for example in the works of Nezaket Ekici, Nevin Aladağ, Hatice Güleryüz, Nilbar Güreş one can observe the concern of tracing their roots and re-construing their relationship to these roots.
Through traditional and innovative ways of art-making, through urban-scapes or nature-scapes, through different technologies such as photography, video and mixed media installations, the works of the artists in this exhibition employ narrative, surrealist or memory based approaches, that have implications towards the complexity of subconscious or the obscurity of desire, towards socio-political involvements and feminist manifestos. Neşe Akbaş, Gülçin Aksoy, Özgül Arslan, Nancy Atakan, Nazan Azeri, Burçak Bingöl, Nezaket Ekici, Yeşim Akdeniz Graf, Gül Ilgaz, Hatice Karadağ, Melike Kılıç, Raziye Kubat, Şükran Moral, Nazlı Eda Noyan, Ardan Özmenoğlu, Bahar Oganer, Zeyno Pekünlü, Maria Sezer, Merve Şendil, İlke Yılmaz kindly contributed to this exhibition and they represent two generations of artists who have not only been “immigrants” or “migrants” at one time of their lives but also have theoretically and spiritually contributed to the flexible creativity generated from being de-territorialized both in the categorical and virtual senses of the word. Here the de-territorialized subject opens up a space for questioning the current relations between global culture and local territories with nation state ideologies and neo-liberal economies. These women feel themselves as cultural subjects who free themselves from pre-determined locations in space and time. In today’s decisive communication and networking conditions de-territorialization is almost inevitable for artists, but simultaneously through their work they fulfill the in-between space, their identities gaining a new territory as they re-territorialize the situations reflected in this exhibition.
I always observed and admired the courageous presentations and performances of women artists with a slight fear that they will be exposed to reactionary protests and punishment coming from the extreme right wing aspects of society. The attitude of self-sacrifice and devotion to social concerns intrinsic in their performances – particularly in performances with body and soul exposure and endurance – was yet another observation I had. One needs to take special notice of this manner of artistic behavior because it carries with it the burden of emergency in juxtaposition to the submissive attitude of the society of consumption and spectacle. I have presented most of these artists in solo and group shows, in my art center since the beginning of the ‘80s.
As a curator, there are too many reasons to get involved in female artists’ endeavor to stir up awareness or to protest, yet I am always hesitant to name my exhibitions as notable achievements due to the limited audiences, the disinterested NGO’s and the absence of art discourses in current politics, not to mention the calculated distance of the state and local government institutions to critical thinking. With these exhibitions and with my expanded interest in female artists who have outstandingly come forward, creating perplexing performances, I think I am only firmly embedded within the contemporary art listings of the region. However, I believe that together with these artists in our ongoing struggle for coherence, art forms help us to imagine the undivided subject. The art is a realm in which we are reassured that there are integrated subjects within the religious-social-political context of our region.
As you will read in the concept text of this exhibition the aim of this exhibition is to observe, to witness and reflect on the fact that these artists have been migrants in one time of their lives or are still migrating. In my opinion “migration” is the most dramatic action of humankind, with no doubt negative but also culturally positive results. In his most inspiring book “The Freedom of the Migrant” *2 Villem Flusser raises questions about and provides answers to the current definitions on migration and to its most evident reason nationalism, with the intention to define the philosophy of the migrant.
In one of the paragraphs of this book the process of immigration is being described as un-settling and de-settling: “People are expelled from someplace to nowhere in particular. If they don’t perish in the process, they become immigrants somewhere. Even though expulsions have occurred ever since human beings became settled, they remain horrific. All three phases of the process are unsettling: being expelled, wandering in the void, and finally being beached somewhere. The first phase unsettles us out of the ground that supports our reality; the second exposes us to unreality; the third transports us into an unacceptable second-degree reality. This de-settling and unsettling are usually viewed negatively.” In the next paragraphs he designates the positive aspects of this de-settling and un-settling. Precisely this process of un-settling and de-settling in the course of migration becomes an essential phase in today’s art-making, as it bestows the artwork with difference, diversity and multiplicity.
The forum of the Project “Who Left/What Behind?” presents the contextual story of migrant female artists through their works, trying to examine and challenge the status of women migrant artists within this still occurring phenomenon that transformed the concepts, contents and aesthetics of the modernist mainstream art and culture industry. The main arguments within this context are:
The protagonist’s role and visibility of women artists within the discourse of local versus global;
The identity and reflectivity of the local cultures within the standardizing processes of globalization;
The significant impact of local cultures and art-making in the established and mainstream international art production and markets;
The neo-capitalist fundamentals of global culture industry imposing the local art-making to conform to its norms;
The creativity and freedom of the migrant versus commonness, mediocrity and stability created by neo-nationalism and neo-capitalist consumption culture.
2Ibid. p.25
The modest scope and dimension of this project is not sufficient to cover and solve all these aims, but its concept and content (i.e. the artworks) like many other of its kind, will again open a discussion and renew awareness in the societies of Bulgaria and Turkey.