Installation photo’s from the exhibition Scattered: Hidden Narratives Through Archives curated by Nesli Gül at Framer Framed, Amsterdam 2023. © Eva Broekema / Framer Framed
A little known history of the activities of artists from Turkey in The Netherlands
The exhibition Scattered – Hidden Narratives Through Archives overflows with information on the different generations of artists from Turkey that have migrated to The Netherlands. Curator Nesli Gül combines such archival materials with the work of four contemporary artists from Turkey. What is the impact of these artists on the Dutch art scene? Does their artistic practice and their representation in the art scene change after being accepted by the important art academies in The Netherlands?
Above the door that gives entry to the small exhibition space on the second floor of Framer Framed, I can already see the first artwork, made by Müge Yilmaz. Ishtar and Apkallu is a wooden sculpture, clearly coming from an interest in spirituality. The sculpture is composed of two hands, opposing each other but connected like the wings of a vulture, on which two mythical figures are carved. The one figure is Ishtar, the Queen of Heaven, the other one an Apkallu: a creature that is part human, part falcon and part fish.
The exhibition space is divided into two segments. On the left hand, there are three tables in the shape of a triangle, all covered with different archival material. On the walls, there are pictures of the first exhibition for artists from Turkey in Amsterdam in 1982, 5 Turkse Kunstenaars, and posters to promote that exhibition. As curator Gül tells, me: ‘It was the time of the military coup attempt and later nation wide introduced martial law in Turkey, which led to a new kind of oppression in the country. Hence, many cultural, politically leftist people moved to The Netherlands, attracted by the country’s liberalism and freedom.’ Exhibitions like the one in 1982 were organised in solidarity with these migrating artists. On another part of the wall, there is an abstract painting made by Esma Yiğitoğlu, Omslag/Muska, from 1986. A Muska is an iconic and sacred talisman in the Islamic tradition. In the painting, she let herself be inspired by the women from the Turkish diaspora. The painting is in black and white, with on the top the shape of a triangle referring to Muska. This Muska made through a folded cloth, wherein a paper with a written passage from the Koran is put. This folded piece of paper is made to never be opened, as its protective power would be lost.
Booklets, reports and other documents show how labels used by artists and the funding policies have changed throughout the years
The three tables are used to show how labels and stereotypes used by institutions, artists and the funding policies have changed throughout the years. Different booklets with the annual reports of the Amsterdamse Kunstraad, from 1990 until 1994, are spread out on one of the tables. In the first edition that is put on display, the word ‘allochtoon’ is used in a positive way, and there are very specific rules and rights for the ‘allochtone kunstenaar’ (immigrant artist). There was a separate budget for these immigrant artists from 1990-1992, whereas from 1993 onwards, they would not have a funding scheme specifically for immigrant artists anymore. As Gül points out, the report from 1994 does not contain a distinct definition of the ‘allochtone kunstenaar’ anymore, even more so: they aren’t even written about. After years of criticism, in 2016, media outlets and communication channels decided not to use the term ‘allochtoon’ anymore, because of its negative implications. Nowadays, most people and all official communication channels avoid the term. The material on the table makes clear how the meaning of a word can change just by its connotation.
On another wall, connecting the left and the right side of the exhibition space, an episode of Migration Television (MTV) is shown. On the channel, there was one hour of Turkish-speaking television per month, to make the Turkish community in The Netherlands feel more welcome. This episode is from December 19th, 1995, and in it, the different artists participating in the exhibition Connected in Galerie Kunst in The Hague are being interviewed. Next to it, two different invitations to this exhibition are put on display. It is an exhibition with eight different artists from Turkey: five painters, two sculptors and one photographer. It is interesting to see the shift in titles of exhibitions with solely migrant artists from Turkey: starting from 1982, with the exhibition 5 Turkse Kunstenaars, to Transmovement in 1993-1994, and then to Connected in 1995. Because of the changing perspectives on globalization and internationalism, it was not done to put a focus on their ethnic identities anymore.
The right side of the exhibition space is where the remaining four artworks of the participating artists are shown. Merve Kiliçer’s video from 2021, Nest Egg, is projected largely upon the wall. In the work, the artist documents her personal experience of the freezing of her eggs in The Netherlands. The video consists of both mobile phone footage and 16mm film in black and white, giving the visitor a very personal view of Kiliçer’s medical and emotional experiences. With the work, she not only challenges patriarchal norms and the question of who has control over the women’s body, but she also touches upon the possibility for women to have children and pursue a career at the same time.
Right above the projection is the second work made by Yilmaz, once again clearly inspired by Turkish spiritualism. The sculpture, Eleven Suns (Gyps II) from 2019 is a wooden carving of a vulture. It is a cut-out, painted-red, more abstract version of the bird of prey. Gül tells me: ‘With her sculptures, Yilmaz wants to encourage viewers to rethink their relationship to the environment and cultural values to be preserved.’
Even though the participating artists are researched from a migration perspective, they are firstly shown as artists, having their work speak for itself
On the opposite wall, Servet Koçyiğit’s Camp Moria (2021) is shown, which is part of an ongoing series called Mapping Refugee Camps. This specific work is made of two ‘immigrant bags’: nylon bags that are given to refugees by the government of the country in which they are searching for refuge. The base of the work takes the rectangular shape of the deconstructed bag, which is made of woven strips of nylon in red, black and white. On top of it, Koçyiğit has used different shapes of nylon cut-outs: circles, squares, rectangles and longer lines, to make a textured collage.
In the exhibition, another project is shown that is to be seen as part of the archival material. This work, which blurs the lines between artwork and archival work, is a part of a project by Bülent Evren from 2004, The Mapping System. In this project, Evren maps the movement of artists in The Netherlands in a period of twenty years. On the wall in Framer Framed, one can see two enormous maps of The Netherlands from 2004. On the left map, you can see where all artists of Dutch origin live, whereas on the map on the right side, the places of residence of artists with other countries of origin are shown. On the first map, the yellow dots, presenting the 14.575 artists taken into account, are scattered all over the map, whereas on the second map, almost all of the yellow dots are centered around Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague.
Although the exhibition is modest and relatively small compared to the ground exhibition, mostly because of the limitations of the exhibition space, it is overflowing with information. On every table there are several books, booklets, exhibition invitations, catalogues, photos of artists, press releases, VHS tapes and on the sides of the tables there is plenty of text to give the visitor the context of everything that is exhibited. Gül has carefully chosen the five different artworks, which are, although all totally different in approach, creating a beautiful balance in the small room. Even though the participating artists are mostly researched from a migration perspective in several studies, this exhibition beyond migration focuses on their art practices, representations of their artistic identities, and participation in the Dutch art scene, having their work speak for itself.
The exhibition Scattered – Hidden Narratives Through Archives runs until April 16th (this weekend) at Framer Framed
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