Art since the eighties has privileged the other stories of women, of queers, of the suppressed, in a parallel line with the postmodernist interest in the other, and as a result of the end of grand narratives. This interest led an increase in nineties of an art “based on personal reportage, fieldwork and/or archival research” (Bois & Buchloch &Foster &Krauss, 2005, p.625). The internal motive behind this tendency in the art scene emerged corollary to contemporary art’s changing perception of site, once considered more in physical terms. The critique of the site used to be limited to the art institutions solely, as a result of the new agendas in the new perception of place, of site, as Miwon Kwon tells, it has expanded its scope. The physical context of site has extended towards its social-political dispositions, its codification, thus its synchronic dimension, the horizontality, as Hal Foster suggests (2009, p.244). The topic of this paper will be this shift in contemporary art scene, the changing understanding of site and the acquisition of ethnography as a language within contemporary art practice. The underlying motives behind the tendency to turn to ethnographic language in art practice within the multicultural context of our time that short circuits West centric mindset and how it has fed into the art scene will be examined. Three recent examples: Burcu Yağlıoğlu’s video work” I would swallow you whole” and Deniz Sözen’s British alter ego, Suzan Dennis, and my own two recent works will provide case studies to think about those issues in flesh.
In “One Place after Another”, Miwon Kwon gives an account of the development of site-specificity in art, the trajectory that leads to the phenomenological concerns of site-specificity to be replaced by new agendas in the new perception of place, of site. A more physical understanding of minimalist site concerned with “actual physical attributes of a particular location (the size, scale, texture, and dimension of walls, ceilings, rooms; existing lightning conditions, topographical features, traffic patterns,seasonal characteristics of climate etc.)” has given way to place with its social, political agendas (Kwon, 2004, p.3).
The introduction of site-specific art into the art discourse was a result of the critique of the role of the art institution in the production, presentation and perception of art, at first place. However, it began to be acknowledged that the institutional framework is a discourse within the network of other discourses (Bois & Buchloch &Foster &Krauss, 2005, p.624), more than an abstract white cube. Alongside came the reconsideration of the audience, placing him/her within a social-cultural-political context that effects the perception of art “... for he or she was also a social subject marked by multiple differences of class, race, and gender ...” (Bois & Buchloch &Foster &Krauss, 2005, p.624), that inevitably affects the response to the art work.
As Hal Foster also suggests, the changing definition of art institution lead art to be considered as a discursive web made of different actions and institutions, other subjectivities and societies, bringing art practice to look closer at the realm of culture (2009, p. 230). Thus, art has began to face towards the realm of culture.
As a methodology of anthropology, ethnography has begun to be highly accepted as an approach for artistic production from nineties onwards, under this rubric. The underlying motives in this interest, defined as the ethnographic turn in art by Hall Foster, have been listed in Art Since 1900: Modernism, Anti-modernism and Postmodernism as such:
-anthropology as a discipline taking culture as its object of study has attracted artists as the culture and cultural representation have become the focus of the artists.
-the contextuality and interdisciplinarity of anthropology were features much appreciated and seeked in the art of post 80’s.
-anthropology, being a field that study otherness, which is also much prized by postmodernist artists, has made it “along with psychoanalysis, the common language of much recent art and criticism”(2005, p.625).
-the critique of “ethnographic authority” launched in the eighties also rendered anthropology attractive, for it suggests a special self-awareness on the part of the ethnographic artist (Bois & Buchloch &Foster &Krauss, 2005).
This tendency is deeply related with the postmodern interest in other stories, in the voice of the other. In that sense, ethnography as the study of “other” supplied a perfectly tailored approach.
Under the interest in the other lies, the look for one’s own truth, Hal Foster suggests. The modern subject, he tells, looks for the truth within the other, within the unthinkable and unconscious, which yields to the privileging of two disciplines, one of which is ethnography and the other psychoanalysis (Foster, 2009, p. 223).
The identity, in western philosophical system, is constituted in the “other”, through a disidentification-identification process, within the binary categories. The postmodernist identity politics implies decentring of the modern subject at the centre of meaning production, at the centre of the world (Foster, 2009, p. 223). Considering ethnographic practice as a means to play with this centre and “coping with the complexity of multiple centres with multiple peripheries” is a premise Alsop finds in the discipline (Alsop, 2002). Ethnography, once a tool for reinforcing the colonial ideology that enabled colonialism, now is working for a multi-centered world, in a multi-cultural world, that cannot accept a hierarchical cultural model.
Linda Thuwai Smith relays from Robert Young who argues that Hegel, as one of the leading figures of western dialectic,
...articulates a philosophical structure of the appropriation of the other as a form of knowledge which uncannily stimulates the project of nineteenth century imperialism; the construction of knowledges which all operate through form of expropriation and incorporation of the other mimics at a conceptual level the geographical and economic absorption of the non-European world by the West (Smith, 1999, p. 65).
The role of the other in the construction of western identity is highlighted by the academic disciplines that plays crucial role in the construction of the knowledge and accordingly in the sustenance of the Western subject. Diane Lewis, in this line, underscores the role of anthropology, as a field studying the other, providing the self knowledge to the Western self to accomplish the project of the self, to “fulfil the gaps of Western man’s knowledge about himself”. This presumption also lead to the study of the non-Western world only from the perspective of the Westerners “or outsider” (Lewis, 1973, p.582 ) resulting in the regarding the other as part of the identity and possession of Westerner.
The modern subject is the product of the modernity project, of which liberalism is a vital component. That modernity project has also brought the very same mindset that allowed “the systematic colonization of indigenous peoples in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries” (Smith,1999, p. 66). Referring to Pierre Bourdieu, Hal Foster also expresses his suspicions about traditional ethnography running the risk of sustaining “Cartesian opposition that lead the observer to abstract the culture of study. Such mapping may thus confirm rather than contest the authority of cartographer over site in a way that reduces the desired exchange of dialogical fieldwork” (qtd. in Kwon, 2004, p.138).
Anthropology and the sustenance of the centre
The status of anthropology, as a discipline designed as a corollary of colonialism, a discipline that has supported colonialist, west-centric ideas has began to be criticized highly from 80’s onwards (Clifford, 2002). Beforehand, the native other was considered as an object of study, it was seen as a means to accomplish the project of self. On that account, there was no need to take that object as an individual with its particularities, in its very idiosyncrasies. “Similarly the anthropologist, in his concern with patterns, ethos, structures, is several levels of abstraction removed from the raw data of individual motivation, attitude, and behaviour” (Lewis, 1973, p.585). The individual is subject to “objectification through depersonalization” which yield to sustaining “an already existing relationship of inequality” (Lewis, 1973, p.585-586).
With the postmodernist turn in the discipline self reflexivity began to be considered as a means to overcome the handicaps of the discipline that keeps on growing the gap, the inequality. Christiane Kraft Alsop is also for a self-reflexive project and suggests that “In the wake of colonialism anthropologists came up with the term self-reflexivity to understand ethnographic limitations and potentials”(2002).
One of the approaches that began to be appreciated for its power to overcome the handicaps of anthropology has been “auto-ethnography”. Auto ethnography “is an autobiographical genre of writing and research that displays multiple layers of consciousness, connecting the personal to the cultural” (Ellis&Bochner, qtd in Alsop, 2002). This method resist the generalizing tendency of grand narratives that “refract and resist cultural interpretations” and aims to blur “the personal and cultural”.
Carolyn Ellis, in her text “Ethnographic I” draws a diagram of ethnography, divides it virtually into two, one end closer to science the other to art.
At the science end of qualitative spectrum, researchers approach qualitative research as an extension of quantitative enquiry. They are positivistic researchers whose goal is to produce propositional knowledge about human behaviour generalizable to specific populations” (Ellis, 2004, p.28).
Defining this category of research as realist, she suggests that people doing this sort of research privilege “theory generation, typicality, and generalisation to a wider world over evocative storytelling, detailing concrete experience, and multiple perspectives that include participant’s voices and interpretations” (Ellis, 2004, p.29). Thus in “realist ethnography”, researchers tend to look for a generalisability of particularities of the experience, put them under a rule, thus believe in the machine like functioning of the culture, in a sense, neglecting the factor of the individual.
At the other end of the research , which she finds more close to art, more impressionist and interpretive, stands auto ethnography. Ellis draws attention to the recent interest of the researchers in that kind of qualitative research, roughly since 1980s: “Researcher seek to tell stories that show bodily, cognitive, emotional, and spiritual experience”, which acknowledges “the complexities of concrete moments of lived experience” (2004, p. 30).
Christiane Kraft Alsop defines auto-ethnographers as “boundary walkers”. Their task is to engender a meeting ground for different cultures, at the threshold of “home and away, of being insider and outsider, of being personal and cultural selves”(Alsop, 2002). Jean Fisher, dubious about autobiographical approach in contemporary art production, thinks that this kind of approach does not make certain to achieve reality, the authentic voice. “However, the autobiographical in itself is no guarantee of an “authentic voice,” much less a critique of the determinations of the symbolic order, since the self is inescapably social in its formation” (Fisher, 2004, p.236 ). Yet the autobiographical approach does not claim to capture the “authentic voice”, it works just to muddy the clear essentialist takes of identity, of culture and acknowledges that identity is not static ready for capturing.
Fisher’s reservations about autobiographical approach and it’s inability to capture the authentic voice makes sense within the west centric multicultural art scene, towards its approach to non western art. She suggests that, in order the non-western artist in the western art world to exists he/she should either highlight her/his ethnic identity, difference or do political work. (Fisher, 2004, p.236). In a similar line, Hal Foster warns about the risk of colonizing the difference that might lead to a reductionist, exoticist view of the individuals (qtd in Kwon, 2004, p.139). Fisher’s argument that the expectations of western art institutions incarcerate the non-western artist within her/his difference, the overvaluing of difference, authenticity ends up in the stereotyping of the artist and his/her culture. Artist as ethnographer as long as he/she fetishizes the difference, runs the risk of taking identity, culture in essentialist terms, thus digging the gap further. It is an extension of colonial desires for difference, to sustain the self, to draw boundaries and just let the outsider into the centre provided that the other knows where to stand. In his work “The Postcolonial Exotic: Marketing the Margins” Graham Huggan similarly draws attention to the decontextualisation and commodification of cultural difference as an outcome of “the continuities of older forms of imperial representation” (Huggan, 2001, p.19).
Jean Fisher discloses that the demand of ending “cultural marginality” lead the art industry exhibit more non-European artists that issue in their work “appropriate signs of cultural difference”. (Fisher, 2004, p.235). Similarly Nikos Papastergiadis believes that there is a “ fetishisation of the alterity of the artist from the margin” (2005,p.341). As a result, those artists are considered not as individual subjects but as representative of essentialized, homogenized, exoticized culture that suits to the mindset of western institutions.
On the other hand, this situation might also turn into an awkward censorship mechanism, that can end up muting the artists, which steals from the artist to engage in a critical relationship with his/her everyday live. Whenever the artist genuinely tries to engage with the social, political, historical agendas of her/his being, s/he is either blamed for “serving the western, orientalist, exoticist discourse”, as being in the periphery sells in the western art institutions, thus exploiting the marginal status of her/his geography or it is perceived as purely political act which leads the endeavour to be kindly neglected.
Figure 1. Burcu Yağcıoğlu. I would swallow you. 2009
In the last “Günümüz Sanatçıları Sergisi” ( The Artists of our time) Yağcıoğlu’s video work “I would swallow you whole” was defined by the curators of the show, as reflecting “geo-political labelling of the artist” which has become a characteristics of the contemporary art market’s “expected ‘exoticism’”(Yücel & Vidmar, 2009). What is happening here is “labelling” the artist as it is done by western art institutions but with a twist and not allowing her to talk sincerely about her concerns over her body, over daily practices, habitual processes that is at issue in this work. Rather than going for ready-made recipes to define and discard the artist so easily, generalising and finding patterns in the work similar to the colonialist ethnographer, the particularities of the work should be considered.
Zineb Sedira, for example, in her text for the “Veil” show, tells that veil, apart from being a public issue is also a part of her history, a private issue that she cannot prevent herself dealing with. She stresses Gayatri Spivak’s concerns about the commodification of those differences by the West, and asks:
What space does this leave visual artist when exploring the veil as the object of representation? Can the artist escape the burden or cultural responsibility of representation? Is the artist, or indeed the curator, responsible for reinforcing the stereotypes of an audience? (Sedira, 2004, p.184).
Her answer to those question is to keep on challenging “ the recurrent reductionism and work towards a critical, polyvocal dialogue”(Sedira, 2004, p.187). Thus, rather than leaving the issue of veil aside, as it is thought to serve to the stereotypical imagery of a culture, she chooses to itch that issue, however overloaded it is, which is a part of her own story at the edge of personal and cultural self.
Yağcıoğlu, in her video, does her hairdo in the fashion of the turban, she covers her hair with her hair. In her own words, what she sees in the act of veiling, covering oneself occurs in the presence of an other, imaginary or not (Yağcıoğlu,2007). What is happening in this work is, Yağcıoğlu’s placing herself in the place of an intrinsic other, an other woman that has developed another set of bodily configuration within the same social-political-cultural context. For Yağcıoğlu, one covers oneself at the presence of an other, the gaze of the other is what creates the act of covering.
Vasıf Kortun’s remarks on the body of Turkish woman, in which he sees the analogy of the country. The body has a hunchback due to constant hiding of its breasts, and if we are going to talk about a colour it is grey in tones, he suggests (Kortun, 2007).
A transference of the meaning of covering, she transforms an everyday practice of a distant relative, replacing herself by the disliked alter ego , the woman in her turban.. This experience has a possibility to allow her to step out of her invisible limits, and setting her foot into the same frameworks in another appearance, yet standing at the limit .
Figure 2. Burcu Yağcıoğlu. I would swallow you. 2009
Replacing the turban, that supposed to hide her hair, with her own hair, thus transforming it into its very opposition implies a transgression of the boundaries, both her’s and her other’s. This act is unacceptable by both ends. The motive is not an aggressive transgression act, however. She is transforming her everyday act, although momentarily, and stepping out of her everyday routine, short circuiting it, to allow her body to habitualize another mindset, thus adding it to the vocabulary of her bodily language and shifting her body, with the act of veiling, creating an interim space, walking on the boundary, as Alsop attributes to the task of auto-ethnographer.
Yağcıoğlu provides a story in a visual language, does not look for authenticity, for a difference, for eccentricity, but tells us her story. Michael Jackson, in the “Politics of Storytelling” reminds us the capacity of storytelling to be able to form a “social critique”, against the perception of stories as a kind of lullaby (p. 253). Similarly, Lisa Jane Disch points to Hannah Arendt’s view of political theory as not “descriptively accurate report of the world but to transcend the limitations of facts and information` to tell a provocative and principled story” (Disch 1994: 140)
The exotic, the strange appears in every corner of our daily life. In the words of Clifford, “This century has seen a drastic expansion of mobility, including tourism, migrant labor, immigration, urban sprawl...The ‘exotic’ is uncannily close”(2002, p.13). The “extraordinary realities” are close than ever, that cause an anxiety, an estrangement. As Christiane Kraft Alsop utters stringently, “There is nothing more difficult than this back and forth between ways of living, speaking, thinking and feeling. There is nothing more risky than switching between various identities and practices of estrangement” (Alsop, 2002). Thus, Yağcıoğlu’s work positions at this threshold, at the realm of estrangement within a familiar context. The highly criticised situation of her, playing the Turkish woman from an Islamic country working in/for the western art scene is a label that has attributed to her, regardless of her individual interest, thus objectifying, depersonalizing the artist and undervaluing her act.
1590s, "belonging to another country," from L. exoticus, from Gk. exotikos "foreign," lit. "from the outside," from exo- "outside," from ex "out of." Sense of "unusual, strange" first recorded in English 1620s, from notion of "alien, outlandish." In reference to strip-teasers and dancing girls, it is first attested 1954, Amer.Eng.
egzotik (tr) ~ Fr exotique foreign, weird ~ Gr eksōtikós εξωτικός foreign < EGreek eksō εξω exterior
Miwon Kwon points out to “the intensifiying conditions of spatial differentiation and departicularization –that is, the increasing instances of locational unspecificity- are seen to exacerbate the sense of alienation and fragmentation in contemporary life” (Kwon, 2004, p.8). In that sense, Clifford’s argument that ethnography’s first and foremost function is orientation gains a crucial role. It becomes an everyday task to do ethnographic work, to come across with the “exotic”, to reorient our realities. What Yağcıoğlu does is a reorientation, to come across with a distant relative.
It is quite telling that Alsop begins her text on auto ethnography with a long introduction elaborating on the idea of home. She suggests that turning back home, in the sense that having a look at our preconceptions that provide us a lens, a framework to look through is one of the means of achieving self-reflexivity that is seen as one of the paramount needs of the ethnographic discipline of our time. Apart from an issue of that particular discipline, it is an ethical issue of our everyday lives that needs orientation/reorientation all the time. The fundamental task of home is supplying a “primary experience” that will determine our reactions, perception of the world, it will define our centre of meaning, our “inner compass”(Alsop, 2002).
The alter ego of Deniz Sözen, that she named after as Suzan Dennis can be read as an attempt to structure the ambiguous, frustrating and disorienting feeling experienced against the British “inner compass”. Sözen has given a name to her British other, across the mirror of her identity. That is why it is reversed and the way her name sounds in Turkish has changed, translated into the melody of British English. In the introductory text of her exhibition “Be Longing”, Suzan Dennis is introduced as a means for “questioning her identity as an artist and as an ethnic 'curiosity'” against all the stereotypical and simple minded perception of “‘otherness’ often promoted by a Euro-American-centric art market”.
Andrea Deciu Ritivoi, tells the story of Ewa Hoffman, a Polish immigrant in Canada, who has changed her name into Eva, to acclimatize her name and accordingly her identity to her new environment, to sound her name and herself proper. Arriving Vancouver at the age of thirteen this small shift has been a symbol for her identity at the threshold, her adaptation process and her divided identity. Ritivoi underlines the relation between name and community, and to the fact that immigrants follow such a path, changing their names to make it easier for the others in the community to pronounce, to make it more familiar:
A change from Ewa to Eva may not seem radical: One letter adjusted, mostly to suit the phonetic conventions of another language. But it is an adjustment that marks the shift from one world/community in which the individual was used to being included, to a different one... Hoffman’s distress at the change of her name is caused by her realization that she is now officially transplanted into a new world (Ritivoi, 2002, p. 156).
A foreign name is overloaded with histories from afar, on the other hand, choosing a more familiar name, or adapting your name to its new environment might allow you to forget your difference, to leave your difference at home. In the words of Ritivoi, “A foreign name beckons explanations, life stories that reconnect one to the place of origin” (2002, p. 157).
In a sense Suzan Dennis, “at the verge of the untranslatable” (as she defines it) is an ironic translation project of Deniz Sözen, like her childishly drawn painting.( This drawing is from her childhood indeed).
Living in translation and lacking both an adequate vocabulary and the sense for the rhythm of the language, it was as though my adult knowledge had to be transposed into the vocabulary of a six-year-old [...] (p.35). To come [...] to the imbecile stammering of an immigrant American was a fall [...] (Alsop, 2002).
Thus, Sözen’s preference to draw this fall, this failure to communicate within a new template in a childish style also reflects the inadequacy the sojourn feels. In this falling fits her gesture. She imagines herself as blond, dark haired and auburn at the same time, all in the same dress, with pink hair ribbon and shoes, red shirts, blue skirts, all in the same colour. Just their houses, and the money (I reckon) they have in their hand are in the colour of their hair, different from each other. So I would speculate, drawing from the painting below, that not only the “schwarz kopf” Turkish girl and blondie European, the colour of the money in their hands (currency is also a symbol for the divide between geographies) implies a difference in their identity that defines the colour of their home.
Figure 3. Drawing by Deniz Sözen
Erden Kosova, points out to the psychic trauma of the citizens of Turkey that has emerged as a result of gazing ourselves through the lens of Europe, of the modernised West (Kosova, 2002). The drawing of Sözen, and also her British alter ego Suzan Dennis, can be considered within the schizophrenic identity, that divides the self, to conform the norms of the proper place, attitude to be.
Living in a passage, trying to come to terms with our new life and our past within its new context means a restless life that excludes any certain position. “One result of feeling exiled from the polis is that refugee often feels that the sole domain in which he or she now exercises any freedom is the domain of private emotions, the personal body, and the domus” suggests Jackson (2002, p.70). The feeling of “being exiled” leads to “a kind of cultural agoraphobia” Hannah Arendt argues, that turns storytelling to a “public action” (Arendt qtd in Jackson, 2002, p. 15). Storytelling, that occurs at the edge of public and private, personal and cultural selves, is a political act, “sustaining a sense of agency in the face of disempowering circumstances” she suggests (Arendt qtd in Jackson, 2002, p. 15).
Storytelling can be considered in line with the reflexive turn in social sciences. Reflexivity, basically, puts the scientist under scrutiny, questions his/her authority, and rejects representation as reality, as the researcher is both object and subject of the study and cannot avoid being a part of the representation s/he offers. The input of the scientist is no more ignored. Alongside the questioning of the authority of the scientist as an objective figure disclosing knowledge, came the “drawing upon self-knowledge as a central source of data , personal experience – ‘a forbidden pool of data’ as Michelle Fine (1984, cited in Reinharz 1992: 263) aptly termed it” Rosanna Hertz expresses (1997, p.IX). Thus, personal data began to constitute an accepted means to study the culture and human behaviour, Hertz furthers.
My collage flowers combining the flowers in the carpet of my family home and botanical illustration drawings stand at the intersection between the personal stories and the histories, what people make out of histories. I am mainly interested here how faraway tastes, cultures travel, come closer and appear in our everyday lives, and become part of it. With the sewn flowers there is the idea of encounter of far and close, home and away again. The hybrid flowers, within the alcohol filled glass container look similar to the body parts or freaks that are being preserved in formal dehide. The transports of the species of flora and fauna from far away countries to the European centres kept in botanical gardens, and studied closely. In terms of the audience at the centre, it meant both a means to encounter with difference and a spectacle to enjoy those eccentric, exotic worlds, similar to the much enjoyed freak shows. And all within the very safe and tame boundaries of the home/land.
Plantation: mid-15c., "action of planting," from M.Fr. plantation, from L. plantationem (nom. plantatio) "a planting," from plantare "to plant" (see plant). Historically used for "colony, settlement in a new land" (1610s); meaning "large farm on which tobacco or cotton is grown" is first recorded 1706.
The domestic character of the containers and the liquid I used for preserving the stitched flowers refers to this close encounter as well, the foreign element, a stranger that we find at an arm distance, and what we make out of it, how we transform and translate it. The eastern textile, carpets especially has been a means for this encounter, where the taste of east, thus a piece of east, entered into the western homes for ages.
The models for my sewn flowers come from catalogued flowers of the Turkish National Monetary Institution. The catalogue defines those flowers as “the flowers that are specific to us”, thus defines them as symbols for a nation in need of symbols, myths, stories to associate with easily, to construct solidarity that bring “us” together, redoing an “us” and “them” divide. Cutting and sewing the leafs of flowers, turning them into the symbolic flowers that are used to define the specificity of a country, of a land ends up in a hybrid, mimicking the other one.
Hybrid is a privileged category of postmodernism, of postcolonialism that seeks a way to avoid essentialist senses of identity. A neither nor, either or category, hybrid originally means “offspring of tame sow and wild boar” in Latin, a term that was barely in use until the 19th century (Young, 1995, p.6). Primarily a term used in zoology and botany, hybrid began to be considered as a site of resistance to subvert the dominant discourse. Robert Young relays from Homi Bhabha the role of hybridity, as “a problematic of colonial representation that reverses the effects of the colonialist disavowal, so that other “denied” knowledges enter upon the dominant discourse and estrange the basis of its authority” (Young,1995, p.23).
Bhabha argues in his article “Of Mimicry” the revolutionary possibilities of the hybrid to displace the sovereign, through depriving him of his essence. An Indian appropriating the master’s features, his language, blurs the identity of the master and makes him to look for the British essence, question it (Bhabha, 2004, passim).
In Bakhtinian sense, a “novelistic hybrid” stands at the crossroad of different voices, a “system having at its goal the illumination of one language by means of another, the carving-out of a living image of another language”(p.118). Thus, it is a platform for the different voices come together, to unravel what is hidden through a focus on the difference that lays at the edge of their similarities.
Sewing in Turkish language has double meaning; “dikmek” also means “to plant”. A plant is a site-specific organism that grows under certain climate, in a certain type of soil. Most plants can be planted in different places, provided that they are kept under the required conditions, the same acidity of the soil, the same humidity and the warmth of the climate. Hence, they are in need for artificial homes, an environment mimicking their home, simulating the means for the plant to survive. Similar to the stranger who can make a home for herself in a different cultural code, but still has a critical distance towards it, making the environment a curiosity for her, and being an object of curiosity with her improper code of culture, of an idiosyncratic way of being in the world.
In the manner a flower can be turned into a national symbol, to regularize the way a flag is folded is one of those rituals for the structuring of the national identity. Turkish Flag Code is a sixteen page document regularizing almost everything about the flag, like the way to produce a flag, the material suitable for the flag, “how white should the star and crescent be?”, how should the flag be folded in “everyday use” and so on ( Turkish Flag code, 1985).
The “everyday use” of the Turkish flag covers national holidays, or times that requires “solidarity and union” that the patriotic-nationalist discourse asks for at every opportunity. Apart from state offices, buildings, or public spaces, it is hang on the balconies,on cars as a barometer for the nationalism.
Another alternative daily usage of the flag serves as a means of disguise. When the tension between minorities and extreme far right soars, the minorities hang Turkish flags at their houses or shops, to sneak off fom the racist anger. Through putting an accent on the flag, that has been defined exhaustively, we witness again a hybrid act, “carving-out” of the one language with the another one.
In my work where I folded clothes according to Turkish flag code, there is a hybrid voice, that has the ability to “to ironize and unmask the other within the same utterance”(Bakhtin qtd in Young, 1995, p.20). Translating an act performed under the state rule into a domestic daily work, implies other translations, “interpolations ” at work in daily practice. In a sense, it is an embodied ethnographic writing.
A life within a different cultural code, that has different perspectives towards personal and public, individual and collective identities, make us resituate, reconsider ourselves, within our sojourner experience. Didem Özbek, a member of Pist, an artist initiative from Istanbul, described how she felt when she came over to London for her postgraduate study in design. Her experience mostly involved situating herself within the life in a foreign country, coming across with the questions about her homeland, thus feeling more involved in the questions about the policy of the state , the culture she is coming from, in short the socio-cultural aspects of her homeland, that makes her a Turkish citizen beyond being Didem, which did not bugged her before, when she was back “home”(Özbek, Personal Interview, 20 May 2010).
This experience, confronted by a majority of sojourners end up with a double ethnographic work; trying to figure out the codes of a new culture, and to orient oneself to it on one hand, and looking back at the “natural” cultural environment they are coming from. Hence, the experience entails a multifaceted study, that turns the self, the culture within and without into an object of curiosity.
The experience of being between a personal self and the public image I have as a result of my socio-cultural position result in an ethnographic work, that turns the sojourner at times into an autoethnographer, at other times into a native ethnographer. Looking back home, in the words of Christiane Kraft Alsop, exploring home, as a framework providing our inner template, “ the wishes and fantasies it provides us with, the anxieties and angers it causes, the joys and delights of our everyday lives, the gaps between our factual and our fictional homes” should be developed as an ethical stance, as it might supply us with the necessary means to read the interim space of personal and cultural, far and close, us and them.
This is not an unproblematic task though: The problem of artistic and ethnographic authority, the contentious nature of culture that might end up easily in essentialist formulations and accordingly, the possible colonisation of difference are some of the preliminary problems to be encountered. Robert Young highlights the fact that, although the cultural encounter, the meeting of difference is not a new phenomenon, a proper way of resolving the disputes within the encounter has still not been devised (Young, 1995, passim).
With the works of Burcu Yağcıoğlu, Deniz Sözen and myself, in this paper, I have tried to show some samples of the confrontation with oneself and other away from “home”, the lens we are provided with, within an artistic language. All those works, merging at the intersection of personal and cultural selves tells stories of themselves, stories that has an empowering character with a hope to ignore the Western canons, if not to decentre it as James Clifford hopes.
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