Gülsün Karamustafa:
Le visage Turc, 1998

three-piece photo installation
laser print, black/white
each 139 x 100 cm
Collection Block, Berlin

Gülsün Karamustafa calls herself an artist from Istanbul. As such she puts great emphasis on the location where the creative process takes place and that noticeably influences her artistic work. But this location was not always chosen freely. Due to her personal differences with Turkish politics at the beginning of the 1970s, she had not been in the possession of a valid passport for sixteen years, until the mid-80s, and therefore, unlike other Turkish artists, could not leave her home country. This isolation and non-communication established her interest in analysing her own situation, the city of Istanbul, the interior migration and the nomadism in Turkey, as well as the question of identity as a consequence of ideological and psychological processes.

Like a sociologist or anthropologist, Gülsün Karamustafa explores historical and social connections of oriental culture in her works. Hereby she often uses material and objects that offer a historico-cultural reference and that express the liaison of different cultures and religions, that hybrid character. By reverting to historical lore, Karamustafas artistic comments oscillate between sensual-narrative and ironic-critical stories of the present situation.

Since the end of the late 90s, the artist has often used already existing material of images of oriental or occidental origin that she mostly fragments, dismantles and reassembles. In doing so, the artist reverts to both private and public images of every-day life culture and the media. She utilizes resources of images of art history as well as of the arts-and-crafts.

Le visage Turc [1998] examines and filters the representation of the notion of state and of changes on a national scale. In her triptych Karamustafa combines pictures that are gathered from a propagandistic series of the same name published in a Turkish magazine from 1938. These pictures that postulate openness, order, youth, future and a newly defined role of the woman, account for the departure to a new Turkey. They also remind us of national-socialist and soviet-socialist photographies, »mawkishly dumb popular images« [Boris Michailov] from the pre-World War II epoch.
In the mid-20s, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk introduced numerous reforms after the Western role model in Turkey. That way the writings incorporated by Karamustafa refer to the complete exchange of the alphabet, which was followed by a rich mixture of styles. The influence of Arabic letters on the Latin diction can be clearly observed in the typography of that time, and thereby the assertion of a national identity, parallel to Western developments, seems to be questioned.

Like in former works, in her most recent installation The Settler [2003] Karamustafa deals with an issue that is part of the history of the Balkan – a change of location enforced by wars and economic disturbances. In two video projections Karamustafa tells the story of two women living on the left and on the right side of a river that separates Turkey from Greece and Bulgaria. The two screens as well as the films become place markers for different roots, memories and affiliations. Karamustafa penetrates this separation by projecting the images from one side - across a virtual border - onto the other projection screen and vice versa.

In addition to the view on the borderline and the confrontations coming along with it, the strength of Gülsün Karamustafa’s works lies in the bringing out and the capturing of poetic moments that reflect the current situation in its historical and visual references.

Text by: Thomas Thiel