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We in the West inevitably associate the head-scarf with the word "conflict" , the burqa for us is a synonym for Islamic fundamentalism and the oppression of women. An exhibition, produced in Istanbul, shown there in October 2007 at the santralistanbul museum and currently stopping at the Berlin Kunstraum Tanas, shows that it is possible to approach the topic sensuously, in a less serious, less dogmatic way. The exhibition is called Mahrem – Footnotes on Veiling and is based on a concept of Nilüfer Göle, a social scientist. The Turkish curator Emre Baykal has used artistic positions in visual media to continue Göle’s research into "non-Western modernisation projects." The list of artists involved and their migrating national backgrounds alone gives us an idea of their complexity and diversity.
In dealing with veiling and revealing, with intimacy and openness, with the politics of visibility and concealment, the artists pull out all the stops, from playful (self-) representation to subversive pixel minimalism. In the stunningly beautiful Rapunzel sculpture made out of shiny black hair  by Mandana Moghaddam, the female body is effaced, yet in being so completely covered, it is all the more present. The intimacy of the invisible in Ebru Özseçen’s air Corset attains the weight of the absent. In contrast, the video-performer Nezaket Ekici’s face becomes more and more plastic with each of the 25 head coverings draped over one another and the cloths that are affixed with mounting panic. In the tension between inside and outside, between closeness and distance, Parastou Forouhar condenses her picturesque tapestries of cruelty. Coolly, almost an almost analytical coldness, Samta Benyahia turns the ornamental Orient-kitsch of Maghrebian decoration into the lace veil of architecture, and even more pointedly, Shadi Ghadirian aestheticises the contradiction in a ballet choreography where digital icons dance across a computer screen.
The film-maker Kutlug Ataman more opulently analyses four good reasons to wear wigs as a way of constructing and disguising identity. They are a man who is hiding from the police hot on his trail, a journalist who wants to cover that her hair has fallen out from chemotherapy, the female student – shown as a blacked-out picture – who cannot attend university with a head-scarf, and the transvestite, for whom the disguise provides personal freedom.
The most comical and at the same time most memorable work is, however, Samer Barkaoui’s modestly understated short little film. Three completely veiled teen-agers take turns photographing each other in pairs. We can only see two cone-shaped figures in the camera’s display window and yet we know that we are dealing with young girls from their giggling laughter and their delicate fluttering about. We can see them, even though they are hidden. All this comedy seeks to provoke: in Istanbul, where the Mahrem exhibition was previously shown, a proudly religious woman painter was inspired by it enough to found the initiative for a "Head-scarf Biennial."
Studied history of arts. She worked as a curator and coordinator at the Biennales of Johannesburg and Istanbul of 1995 and in the House of the Cultures of the World, Berlin. Since 2000 she is editor for literature in the daily newspaper Berliner Zeitung.
Footnotes on Veiling
15 June -
10 August 2008
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