• Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger
    Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger
9 February 2013–7 April 2013

Ferhat Özgür

Ferhat Özgür, Let Everybody Come Out Today, fotografi 2002

Let Everybody Come Out Today

By seemingly simple gestures, Ferhat Özgür connects the individual reality to larger issues of the human condition in a changing world, where the city of Ankara represents that which constructs, limits and enables our lives. Özgür’s art is characterised by a personal narrative voice, and the social and political issues that he raises are relevant far beyond the borders of Ankara and Turkey.

In 2002 Ferhat Özgür asked the neighbours in the street where he grew up to pose for a group photo outside their homes. Having moved from the Turkish countryside to Ankara, they built their homes on the outskirts of the city. Now, their part of town was due for bulldozing. In the diptych Let Everybody Come Out Today, the neighbours stare grimly at the camera, marked by life. It is a key work in the oeuvre of Özgür, who for years has been critically following the changes taking place in his home environment, where smaller villages and informal settlements are torn down and replaced by a growing number of skyscrapers and shopping malls.

A chronicler of his immediate surroundings, Özgür portrays with humour and warmth the challenges facing the individual in a country where the lines between Islam and Christianity, Turkish traditions and Western influences are blurred and constantly renegotiated.

Ferhat Özgur, Metamorphosis Chat, 2010 och I can sing, 2008

The video I Can Sing shows how high-rise buildings are appearing between the minarets that have traditionally dominated the city of Ankara. A woman wearing a traditional headscarf stands against the backdrop of her reconstructed home, moving her lips to Jeff Buckley’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. This classic song, whose lyrics have been the subject of many interpretations, refers, in this double cover, to how the changing city has received both praise and resistance.

Well it goes like this / The fourth, the fifth / The minor fall and the major shift

Even the major key of the Western popular song seems to be an indicator of uprooting as it obliterates the minor tones characteristic of traditional Turkish music. Swaying to Hallelujah, spreading her arms to the sky, the woman becomes an embodiment of societal upheaval and change.

The video work Metamorphosis Chat (2010) and the more recent Women in Love (2013) both cite the narrative frame of Turkish soap operas. The actors in Özgür’s films are often acquaintances and relatives. Together they seek images and gestures to visually express the difficulties facing especially women living in a patriarchal society and in a present that is constantly producing new realities and questioning traditional ideas of a successful life.

In Metamorphosis Chat, Özgür’s mother, who wears a traditional headscarf, meets a neighbour, a teacher in modern dress, for tea. The women decide to switch roles and begin to exchange clothes. Özgür’s influence as director recedes as the women, allowing themselves to get carried away by the merriment of dressing up, become their own authors. Their hearty friendliness, their openness in dealing with what might otherwise be embarrassing, their laughing at each other and themselves – all poke fun at the fear and aggressive moralising found in debates on symbols with religious connotations.

In Özgür’s latest work, Women in Love, a group of middle-aged widows are reminiscing about their lives with their husbands. The conversation encompasses their vulnerability, fragility and isolation as child brides; identifies painful descriptions of domestic violence and alcohol abuse and heightens our awareness of the nature of matrimonial loyalty through stories of love and loss.

Mum 1954/2011 is a double portrait of Ferhat Özgür’s mother. More than 60 years have passed between the two images and we are reminded of how we age and our relationship with our parents who were once young men and women. This work also refers to the modernisation process in Turkey where Özgür’s mother represents the many women who, in the beginning of the 1950s, migrated from the countryside to the big city of Ankara. Instead of integrating themselves into the more liberal lifestyle of the capital city, many women chose to preserve the traditional values and clothes from their villages. These young rural women grew more conservative in the country’s urban centre. As a young woman in 1954, Özgür’s mother did not wear a headscarf, it only became part of her identity when she moved to Ankara.

A common theme for the majority of Özgür’s photographic works is the city of Ankara, which he has described as a being that infiltrates his bloodstream, lives with him, poisons him but also vitalises and energises him. In Our Neighbourhood, three young boys are gazing out over a changing urban landscape. A number of high-rise buildings are under construction, half-finished houses are sprouting up from the arid ground next to more informal, smaller houses in the nearby slum area. In The City’s Breath Inside Me, air-filled plastic bags are hovering over the poor area of the city, where Ferhat Özgür grew up. Having no money to buy kites, Özgür and his childhood friends made their own out of plastic bags, which, when filled with air, flew as well as the shop-bought ones.

In one of Ankara’s slum areas, the residents gather at a building site for a communal embrace. Özgür began working on Embrace just before the Iraq War started and draws a parallel between the changing city and the fragile peace in the region. The work also forms an association to the dream of a better life, in an area where many people live in houses with protruding iron bars, waiting for the day when they will be able to add another floor to their homes.

Ferhat Özgür, Women in love, 2013. Foto Jean-Baptiste Béranger

Ferhat Özgür (b. 1965) grew up in Ankara and lives and works in Istanbul where he teaches at the Istanbul Kultur University. Özgür’s work has been presented at numerous institutions and biennials all over the world, including the 6th Berlin Biennial; 10th International Istanbul Biennial; 1st Tirana Biennial; 3rd Örebro Open Art Biennial; 1st Mardin Biennial; 1st & 3rd Sinopale; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; Museum der Moderne, Salzburg; MUMOK, Vienna; Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin; Ludwig Forum, Aachen; Mattress Factory Art Museum, Pittsburgh; Kunsthalle Winterthur, Switzerland; Magazin4, Bregenz; Casino Luxembourg – Forum d’art contemporain, Luxembourg; Zone Contemporaine, Bern and MoMA PS1, New York.