European art scene warmly welcomes Turkish artist

European art scene warmly welcomes Turkish artist

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
European art scene warmly welcomes Turkish artist

Moral's Married with Three Men (2010).

Turkish performance and video artist Şükran Moral is currently exhibiting her eight-minute video “Bordello” (1997) at the Bergen Kuntsmuseum in a group show titled “Desire.” The exhibition’s selected works focus on depictions of sexuality and lust.

Moral received death threats after her sensational performance at the Casa Dell'Arte Gallery in Istanbul in 2011, titled “Amemus” (Lovemaking), which included live sexual intercourse with a female partner. Because of the harsh public reactions and criticism in media reports, and also for security reasons, Moral had to cancel her exhibition of the same name, which was to feature photos from the performance.

The art scene suffers a love-hate relationship with controversial and provocative works. Moral’s oeuvre has received unfair treatment from critics, which reduced her critical focus on gender politics to “perversity.” After the 2011 performance, some columnists went so far as to say that they did not consider the performance an art event.

One year later, speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News, Moral said what she sought with “Amemus” was to pierce one taboo, which is also the case with “Bordello.”

“An important aspect of art criticism is to be able to situate a work of art in its historical context. When I made that video in 1997, entering a brothel in Karaköy [a neighborhood of Istanbul] was not as easy as loitering about the Red Light District in Amsterdam.” Although she instantly became a sort of persona non grata in Istanbul after the Casa Dell'Arte performance, Moral’s oeuvre has been widely recognized on the European art scene, a direct result of which is the show at the Bergen Kuntsmuseum.

“The curator reached me through a Bergen-based art historian who got in touch with me through İnci Aksoy. He said that he was a great admirer of my art, which is very flattering for me. As you see, art could be as strong a means as sports for getting one country’s name elevated in international platforms. However, artists are not encouraged, unlike athletes. On the contrary, we are impeded.”

Making of ‘Bordello’

When reminded that art and sports speak to very different demographic groups, Moral returned to discussing the making of “Bordello.”

“That is partially true, but I am not one of those people who think the general public does not understand art. When I went to the brothel to make this video, I took my resumé and showed it to the man in charge there, as if I was about to be interviewed by the art director of MoMa.”

Indeed, “Bordello” is about drawing an analogy between a modern art museum and a brothel. Therefore Moral inscribed “Modern Arts Museum” on the front door of the building. The work has a say about the contemporary art scene on one layer, while it offers a critique of the transformation of the female body to a mere object by the male gaze on another.

The group show in Bergen presents 30 artists who employ a diverse range of artistic expression, but whose different works all revolve around the themes of sexuality and lust. With this exhibition the museum is attempting to shed light on and challenge the established notion of women as perpetual objects and men as peeping toms, which is the perfect context in which to situate and understand Moral’s critique.

“Desire” will run until September 16. After this show closes Moral will be participating in another group show at The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. “This year I will be touring between European museums,” she said, adding that she will have one more show in a leading European museum in November, but declining to give any more details.

“The Stedelijk exhibition will bring together 12 or 13 high-profile Turkish artists. The exhibition after that will bring together 40 Middle Eastern video and photography artists.”

Moral is the only Turkish artist who was invited to participate in the Bergen Kuntsmuseum exhibition “Desire.” “The exhibition is about eroticism in art, which has been among the chief subjects of the fine arts. It is as normal for a contemporary artist to work on eroticism as it is to work on, say, war. But I think this escapes many people in Turkey."

Moral is also not happy about being referred to as a feminist artist by those who have a milder view about her art. “Just because I produce works that explore gender issues, this does not make me a feminist artist. I may be a feminist in my personal life, which I proudly am, but an artist is not limited to aspects of her personal identity. I have worked on anti-war themes and made works on migration-related issues. An artist cannot be limited to the themes they are or should be working on,” she said.