Traces of Non-Muslim Female Identity in the Case Study Istiklal Avenue, and Its Representation in Fine Art Practice
Chelsea College of Arts
My practice-led research uses animation and video works to examine ways of representing the traces of non-Muslim female identities in relation to Istiklal Avenue, Istanbul. Istiklal Avenue was built for non-Muslims living in the nineteenth-century Ottoman Istanbul. It is also an important cultural centre and symbolic birthplace of the Turkish film industry (Yeşilçam). Recent gentrification projects in Istiklal and Beyoğlu District have caused the destruction of its urban spaces and its culturally significant buildings, thereby affecting the preservation of the last traces of the non-Muslim community, which had to abandon Istiklal after the Turkish Pogrom (1955). As a result of historical events and oppressions of ethnic and religious identities in Turkey, non-Muslim identity has become hidden within the society. In the search for traces of non-Muslim female identity, I begin my investigation with New Turkish Cinema from the 1990s, using Svetlana Boym’s idea (2007) that cultural references are usually hidden within the details of ‘reflective nostalgia’ films. While hidden non-Muslim identity has been discussed as a secondary subject in Turkish film, it has yet to be addressed in the context of fine art. My research seeks to find out new ways of representing this hidden identity in art practice using the virtual space of the screen and 3-dimensional installation space. My aim is to address the politics of representation of non-Muslims and particularly female non-Muslim identity, whose representation is already problematic within a patriarchal Turkish society.
I situate my work in relation to the existing literature on historical and contemporary representations of non-Muslim women, especially Asuman Suner and Gönül Dönmez-Colin’s analyses of women in New Turkish Cinema. Whistle If You Come Back / Dönersen Islık Çal (1993) by Orhan Oğuz is a key film for my initial research, as I use the hidden cultural details in this film to re-represent the non-Muslim female protagonist in my animation works. My exploration of this particular film leads up to further embedded investigations of my research site. Architectural details of Istiklal’s arcades, particular of the nineteenth-century buildings, and ‘Turkish’ music also feature in my artworks, which aim to spatially represent the non-Muslim female identities of Istiklal. In my works, I use female voice-over and Kanto, a type of singing, to evoke the sense of these identities. The female voice throughout my thesis is the important element that transforms the reconstructed architectural spaces in my animations into an emotional internal space of the non-Muslim female body. I adopt Catherine Clement’s term ‘rapture’ (1994) to establish an understanding of the visual, sonic distortions in my animations and how this creates a representation of the hidden non-Muslim female identity.
This research, through my artworks, proposes that the spatial representations, reconstructed from visual and vocal traces can contribute to the representation of hidden non-Muslim identity and question the politics of representation of non-Muslim women in Turkey.