Working on this exhibition which presents a corpus  of Nazan Azeri’s artistic production from the beginning to today reminded me of the following quote by Virginia Woolf: “No need to be anybody but oneself” (1). The reason I had this thought was that Nazan Azeri prefers to get to know herself through the process of art making and creates dispositions on childhood, dolls, games, parents and family by making a journey into her own history and its truth. İn the long run she directs the memories and knowledge she discovered in these art works  into the  current meaning and problems of the concepts of parenting. At another phase, she creates the expressionist and/or abstractly scribbled child portraits with the forethought created by the responsibility in the context of negativities concerning the children in the social-cultural structure. In the conceptual, intellectual and sensual foundation of the whole body of Nazan Azeri’s artworks, we observe an insistence that moves towards the mysterious aspects of her own life-story and aims to resolve this mystery. The fact that childhood memories have a permanent impact on the life-stories of people cannot be ignored; giving a new meaning to these memories through art and enabling the spectator to reach opinions and conclusions concerning the social-cultural structure by facing his/her own memories is a method elected by the artist. The fact that Nazan Azeri has first studied law and then moved towards artistic creation becomes evident in the social-political content and discourses of the artworks she creates.
The Game Installation, which is one of her first artworks and is dated 1993, consists of Barbie dolls interspersed on the walls and floors of a desolate, demolished house. Nazan Azeri realizes the installation on her own as a performance and documents it in photography. The spectator views the results of this performance. There is a sensitive space that finds itself a place in the great inconsistency between the solitude and uncanniness of the demolished house and the fact that the Barbie doll is one of the most attractive goods of the big mass and consumption culture. That space constitutes Nazan Azeri’s will to be herself and she risks inconsistency. The second artwork utilizing Barbies appears in a series containing different dolls. The dolls placed in front of a background consisting of small arched cells reminiscent of an archeological finding reflect solitude once again. This time, simple dolls sewn with white cloth and dolls can be seen next to the Barbies. Here, there is a strange alienation and displacement between the dolls and the architectural texture. The series of artworks titled Un-Settling, consisting of photographs and which constitute the next series of artworks by Nazan Azeri, documents the artist once again among demolished ruins, putting up a serene and contemplating performance with dolls in her lap. In the final example of the series utilizing dolls and thus containing this retrospective look, it is observed that the dolls undergo a botanical transformation as a result of an organic process and that they take on an uncanny identity, losing their innocent appearance. These dolls seek for a place for themselves in homes, on the streets and on the walls and perhaps they even find this place they seek. The cultural, economic and social indicators of the place of these dolls and play objects in the mass and consumption culture lies in the deep and constant conflict between religion, conservativeness, androcentrism and child rights, freedom and feminism. Nazan Azeri, approaches the subject matter from the world of imagery and emotion of the child with an awareness concerning these issues and focuses on her own childhood with her performance.
The artist continues examining the social cultural issues with her artworks, using once again symbolic objects, namely a wedding dress and a black male costume. This process focuses on the concepts of mother, father and the rules of the family. Nazan Azeri commemorates and documents her mother through her wedding dress and the male figure with a black jacket, a shirt and a tie; these symbols are processed by means of a series of paintings on canvases, photographs and videos. The traditional family always keeps the wedding dress stored, giving it a meaning on sacredness, love and sorrow. Nazan Azeri expounds her thoughts and emotions regarding her mother using this tradition but also makes a reference to that inconsistent concept of the virgin and the innocent inevitably reflected by the wedding dress in all cultures. Despite such a special and emotional relationship, we see the wedding dress and the male dress dragged and labored among the branches of trees in a harsh windy weather in a series of other paintings and photographs. The artist, with a desire to display the truth behind the socially accepted meaning and that which is visible, shows that the wedding dress and the groom’s suit as well as all surmises and emotions expressed by these traditional objects can all be means as well as the victims of the storms created by the existing social structure which withholds a contradiction. In other performance photos, it is seen that the white and black clothes are dragged on the floor of a house and dragged outside the house. Just as in the artworks with dolls, a reference is made to the possibility of not being able to settle in the space or not being able to coincide with the truths reflected by the space or falling into conflict with such. The artist transforms her thoughts on the social and cultural variables of the period she lives in as well as the nuclear family structure and the identity of women into metaphors over clothes that have a life memory and symbolic value. The dragged and labored male cloth also points out to the fact that the man, who seems to be dominant, is also impacted as a result of this structure and gets its share of this fraying.
The conditions examined by Nazan Azeri are critical areas in the discourses concerning the child, woman and the family of capitalism in its tense stages that have extended to our day.
The Barbie dolls first handled by Nazan Azeri are the foremost plastic objects of the global toy production and this doll, which is 60 years old today and the standards of which are determined by the consumption standards of the fashion and cosmetics industry, has sold dolls worth of 1009 billion USD in 2014. However, there has been a 16% decline in the sales of Barbie dolls in 2015, as it has been indicated in the article titled Barbie from Modernization to Post-modernization (2). The Barbie dolls have also undergone a change in the context of the cultural variety stipulated by Globalization and the critical view of the feminist discourse. The collection that has been put up for sale in 2016 contains four different body types, seven different skin tones, 22 different eye colors, 24 different hair styles and numerous different clothes and accessories. Barbie is no longer of a single body type. Petite, tall and curvy dolls that have more realistic sizes have been launched. Nazan Azeri’s performance with the Barbie doll is in a sense the examination of the directing of the female children with an understanding produced by capitalism with a male mind and gives a certain role to women. On the other hand, the Barbies positioned among the ruins of a demolished house point out to the existence of an alienation of the masses they want to address in terms of their classes and the existence of a rootlessness.
If we are to trace the child imagery in Anatolia, we can see the image of a child, baby depicted in the process of being given birth to on a totem discovered in Göbeklitepe and is exhibited in the Şanlıurfa Museum. There is a vessel and a chalice in the hands of the baby. It is as if what is depicted is the scenario of a divine baby given birth by a divine mother, a goddess. Perhaps, what is attempted to be explained in this totem are the concepts of rebirth, lifecycle, the eternal cycle and eternity but what it also shows us is also the contradiction between Anatolia’s mother goddess (mother woman) cult and the impropriety of the religion centered anti women movements of our day. In the paintings throughout the art history, the baby and child images are depicted as the Jesus in Mary’s lap, angels flying on the ceilings of churches or as Eros in paintings with a mythological reference. These babies and children are chubby boys with pink cheeks, girls are rarely seen, mainly in paintings that immortalize noble families. However, with the beginning of modernism, children from real life begin to be seen in paintings. In the Ottoman Modernism, Osman Hamdi and Halil Pasha paint portraits of children from their own families and later on, the child image with a realistic approach appears, albeit rarely, in the paintings of the Çallı Generation and the D Group. The most evident examples in the Late Modernism appear as Anatolian and urban children in the paintings of Neşet Günal and Neşe Erdok.
On the other hand, Nazan Azeri’s children are the products of a complex and mysterious exchange between the truth and the dream. She uses the child image to examine this complex exchange by means of a long term and persistent art production utilizing the methods of painting, performance, photography and installation. The performances she makes with the dolls she plays with in her lap reflect the processes of that silent and deep relationship between the mother and the child while in the next phase of her art production, it is observed that grasses and flowers grow on the dolls and thus an ecological process, the inevitable future awaiting the generations becomes the current issue. Black and white or colored child portraits drawn with an abstract expressionist approach on large pieces of paper does not seem to come to an end. The children seen in these portraits are not cute chubby angels, but they stand somewhere between the inevitable innocence of a child’s face and being faced with the uncanniness and hardships of life and perhaps being ill-treated. The child images of Nazan Azeri correspond to this quote by Louise Bourgeois: My childhood never lost its mystery, and never lost its drama (3).
The artist set forth a performance containing a social cooperation with the sensitivity created by her observations and interpretations within the urban life in 2005. She entered the back corridor of the Turkish cinema, which shaped the mental and emotional universe of people by generations throughout the 20th century. She had the intention to offer the young generations a new opportunity to gain knowledge and to perform an evaluation. The supporting casts and extras of these movies of no prominence are the laborers of the cinema industry with the lowest wages and usually have been forgotten after a life of labor with no social security. Nazan Azeri, traced this negativity with a sense of social responsibility and put a group of extras living in the Beyoğlu-Tarlabaşı area on the stage once again. She revitalized the past identities of these actors and actresses with second-hand stylish clothes she has been collecting since the beginning of the year 2000. The clothes also act as objects that define lives, destinies and identities in this performance as well. The series of photographs titled Dream Roles and the documentary video that accompanies this series document these people who deserve to live the exciting memories of being supporting cast members by wearing these clothes once again.
The references of these artworks created by Nazan Azeri since 1993 to our day also speaks of a contemporary issue, namely the fact that the political-economic-cultural structure is invaded by the Post-truth discourse. Nazan Azeri prefers a finely handled search for reality to shake the invariably evil ground that the corrupt and commodified values of the society gained for themselves in the Post-truth discourse. However, there is no conclusive result in this search despite the power of the visual processes and images that ensure expansions of awareness with various connotations that trigger perception. As Lacan states: I always speak the truth. Not the whole truth, because there’s no way, to say it all. Saying it all is literally impossible: words fail. Yet it is through this very impossibility that the truth holds onto the real. (4)
Beral Madra, August 2019
1. A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf
2. Modernles?meden Postmodernles?meye Barbie
Peer Reviewed Article Dilara Buket Tatar, Research Assistant, Res. Asst. Gazi University, Faculty of Law, Department of Philosophy and Sociology of Law
3.
My childhood has never lost its mystery, and it has never lost its drama.
4. OCTOBER 40: ART/ THEORY/ CRITICISM/ POLITICS - SPRING 1987: JACQUES LACAN: TELEVISION Paperback – 1987 I always speak the truth. Not the whole truth, because there's no way, to say it all. Saying it all is literally impossible: words fail. Yet it's through this very impossibility that the truth holds onto the real.