||Issue Date: 1 / 2013
An Insightful, Amusing Look at Tolerance
A new show in İstanbul by contemporary artist Şener Özmen offers art lovers a perspective on Turkey's geographical division that is simultaneously critical and humorous.
“Optical Propaganda” is one of
two “self-portraits” Şener Özmen
presents in his exhibition “Zero
Tolerance,” on display until Dec.
29 at Pilot Gallery in İstanbul.
Titled “Zero Tolerance,” Özmen's collection of videos and photographs is on display until Dec. 29 at Pilot Gallery in the neighborhood of Sıraselviler.
Based in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır, Özmen is an artist who chose not to leave his hometown, even though his works have been exhibited in prominent galleries both in Turkey and in other countries.
Naturally, being an artist in the periphery is a common theme in his works.
In “Zero Tolerance,” there are many references that invite visitors to think about the state of contemporary art and politics in Turkey in terms of the tension between the center and the periphery.
In one of the videos in the show, the artist is shown in the steppes of Diyarbakır, repeating the question “Do you think it's possible to influence the world's art from where I am?” but due to the sound of military planes flying overhead, the audience cannot understand what he is saying. This video draws attention to Diyarbakır both as a military base and a periphery in the art world.
“This is a fact unique to Diyarbakır and it has been going on for years. It interrupts daily life and sometimes makes it hard to hear each other even in your home. In the video I'm asking the audience whether it is possible to influence the world's art. I spoke in a loud voice but I cannot even hear myself,” Özmen explained in a recent interview with Today's Zaman.
A photograph titled “On the Road,” also part of “Zero Tolerance,” features a muscular young man wearing a sports outfit and striking a gymnastic pose on his suitcase amidst the steppes of Diyarbakır.
“This is the way an individual looks after moving and changing homes several times or running away. As if this state of moving became a sport for him; his muscles are shaped accordingly, he is wearing tights and instead of having a horse, he has a wooden suitcase,” Özmen said. “The figure [depicts] someone who is constantly going somewhere, but we don't understand where.”
Özmen also included two self-portraits in the show. The first, titled “The Portrait of the Artist as a White Rose,” features the image of a white plastic rose. “The fake, plastic and fabric white rose is exactly my portrait. Although I am not ‘white,' either as an artist or as an individual, there are a couple of reasons to portray myself with this rose,” he explained.
The second self-portrait is titled “Optical Propaganda” and depicts the artist lying uncomfortably on a chair that is covered with the fabric of local Kurdish scarves (poşu) and the artist himself is also dressed in a suit made of poşu fabric. With a string of prayer beads in his hand and the way he stares back at the viewer, he calls to mind the “ağas” (chiefs) of Turkey's eastern and southeastern villages.
“In articles about my exhibitions and even in the catalogs to my shows, people commented for years that I was the ‘ağa, commander, the feudal lord of contemporary arts in Diyarbakır.' This is sometimes uttered as a joke and sometimes seriously. I thought, ‘If I were really an ağa, how would I look?' and so I dressed like this [for this self-portrait],” Özmen said. He made the suit he wears in the picture himself and it is also on display in the show, next to “Optical Propaganda.”
The theme of the poşu continues in “The Perfect Kefiyyeh,” for which Özmen worked tediously for two months in order to create the perfect poşu. “None of them are actually like one another; there is always a difference in the weaving. I was trying to make ‘the ideal poşu' in my mind. It is about that meaningless effort, time spent and the persistency of an artist while creating an artwork,” he said.
The poşu is also a politically charged symbol in Turkey. Earlier this year a student was arrested on charges of terrorism for wearing one.
“Work,” a video Özmen made in 2005, is also featured in this show, marking the first time it is being shown in İstanbul. It refers to the general usage of the term “work” for works of art. The video features his mother and sister in their living room in Diyarbakır, popping plastic wrapping bubbles one by one. “They are doing their job with the utmost seriousness and looking at each other to check how many the other has popped. It's ironic and absurd. We thought this would go very well with ‘The Perfect Kefiyyeh,' since there is a similarity between creating the perfect poşu and popping the wrapping,” he said.
Finally, the work that the exhibition is named after, “Zero Tolerance,” is a neon light installation written in a circle. “[The circle] has the shape of [the number] zero. We have gotten accustomed to this term lately through phrases such as ‘zero tolerance from the police' or ‘zero tolerance for torture.' The show looks at the concept of ‘tolerance.' It questions it both in terms of art history and politics,” he added.
For more information, visit www.pilotgaleri.com.
CITATION: Rumeysa Kiger, Artist Özmen offers insightful and amusing look at ‘tolerance’, Today's Zaman, December 12, 2012
Copyright © Today's Zaman, 2012