“Ottoman Princess”: 9 Lives

So I suppose I ought to post ‘the princesses’.

These are the 9 sketches that are being transformed into life-sized models as we speak (well, ok, it’s 8 o’clock on a Saturday night, so there is probably no one at Show Reklam working at this very moment – but Monday afternoon I’m supposed to go and check them out, so I guess it’s fair to say that they are almost ready. Inşallah.)

If you’ve been following the project so far, then you know that the original ‘Ottoman Princess’ in this installation was designed based on an Orientalist engraving from the 19th century. We had a little group discussion regarding how to ‘dress up’ the version in this installation, and based on that discussion, she ended up looking like this:

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I particularly like her ruby necklace and her turquiose shalvar. She’s in the same pose as the first engraving I had picked to use as a sketch, but I like her better because she looks to me ‘more realistic’. Just what that means is a bit confusing, because, in fact, she’s a totally made-up character.

But then all identities are ‘made-up’, aren’t they?

This is one of the things that I wanted to point out with this installation.

In fact, one of the most difficult things was making up only eight identities; I had to set a limit somewhere, due to space as well as costs, and 8 seemed like a good number. The idea was to have four of the women wearing a head covering and the other four not. But there are so many reasons why women may ‘cover themselves’ – and so many ways of doing it, from a traditional village headscarf (that you don’t need to be a Muslim woman to wear)

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to full ‘black chador’ – an extreme form of dress for a woman – and something that is not all that common in Turkey – but not all that uncommon, either.

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That extreme form of religious dress is something that a lot of ‘secular’ Muslim women get pretty upset about; the worst fear: that someone (or some government) will force me to do this.

At the opposite extreme, there’s definitely a prejudice that equates an ‘uncovered’ woman as a whore – and that doesn’t make distinctions; in other words, dress like this:

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or like this:

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or like this:

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or like this:

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and you are immoral.

From the pictures, I think you will be able to make the judgement that all these uncovered women are different types – or, better, have different identities; in fact, the same woman may adopt a different ‘persona’ – i.e. ‘identity’ – on a different occasion (opening party? office work? shopping and a movie? a hike in the woods?) that is reflected in what she wears.

The possibiliities are endless; for the installation ‘Have Your Photograph Taken as an Ottoman Princess’, I just tried to pair up ‘covered’ and ‘uncovered’ versions from ‘casual’ to ‘extreme’. This is what I ended up with: all the women above, plus two more:

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and

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And while none of these women are ‘really real’, they are all ‘sort of real’ – or, better ‘could be real’ – they could be on the streets of Bodrum or Ankara or Nevşehir – all places where I’ve lived, and where I’ve seen ‘women like them’.

In just about 2 weeks, it’ll be time to try out these women in public at the Bodrum Castle as pat of the Bodrum Biennial – to give other women (and men, and girls, and boys) the chance to see what they would look like ‘as’ these women.

Of course, just trying on someone else’s clothes (so to speak) doesn’t mean you know what it’s like to ‘be’ them (not to mention that it would be pretty hard to know what it’s like to be someone who isn’t real).

Still… the possibility to see yourself differently – or see someone else differently…

“Ottoman Princess”: Head Shots

More on the process behind my latest installation, “Have Your Photograph Taken as an Ottoman Princess” (with more background below in my previous posts. 

Most of ‘the Princesses’ are now beyond the sketching stage, getting onto the watercolor stage, and a few of them are on the computer already, getting ready to be blown up to life-size.

For that, I was down at the sign shop last week to go over the process, trying to find the best way to blow them up to get the look that I want. Unfortunately, it is not a straightforward process (would that it were!). The ‘Princess’ I’ve named ‘Sunglasses’ (for file-finding purposes) has been the one I’ve been using for try-outs:

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Zeynep at the sign shop was skeptical about the size of the ‘face opening’, but after she tried it out she agreed that it was not ‘too small’ as she had feared.

Zeynep also thinks the image is fine the way it is, but I think it is a little too ‘cartoony’, when I was really going for ’19th-century engraving’- so that’s going to change.

But more interesting than the printing has been the response to people trying on ‘the princess mask’. Two things stood out there:

  1. I was over a friend’s house, and her gardener was one of the people there who tried on the mask. Next thing I know, I get an email from my friend that has her gardener’s son’s email address, and could I please send the photo to him? Her gardener, who, I am guessing, is not a regular art-gallery patron, is looking forward to visiting the Bodrum Biennial so he can see ‘what this is all about’. (I call that a ‘positive outcome’, and the exhibit doesn’t even start for another month!)
  2.  I was over at the Bodrum Castle to figure out exactly where the installation needs to go (based on, among other considerations, things like where do the tourist groups congregate and where is the ground not ancient paving stone). While I was there, I was introduced to a family, and my friend asked them if anyone wanted to try on the ‘princess mask’. Out of 8 people, the first one to want to try on the mask was the oldest child – who happened to be a boy. His father promptly said that this was ‘not for him’, that it was for his sister. I promptly corrected that: I said the ‘princess’ was not a real person, and that anyone – male or female – could try out ‘being the princess’. For proof, I showed them the following:

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Harun as ‘Princess With Incipient Beard’.
Or maybe ‘1970s Rock Star’ ?

For more on ‘the Ottoman Princess’, you can click here to get to the Facebook Page.

A TYPE OF SKETCHING, A SKETCHING OF TYPE

A TYPE OF SKETCHING, A SKETCHING OF TYPE

(Preparations for the installation “Have Your Photograph Taken as an Ottoman Princess”)

So, the goal was to have a bunch of different ‘types’ of women to represent the range of women that you might see on any day on any given street anywhere in Turkey. In fact, you probably wouldn’t see all of them on the same street at the same time, but you might; I’ve seen all these ‘types’ myself, so I know.

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Let’s be clear here: There’s a difference between ‘archetype’ and ‘stereotype’. I really started to notice that when I began working on the sketches in more detail, and felt that there was a certain direction I should be going in – more accurately, that there was a certain direction I shouldn’t be going in. The only difference between ‘archetype’ and ‘stereotype’ might be that an archetype has no negative connotations and a stereotype does. I certainly don’t want to be a stereotype. The problem is how to tell one from the other. I wanted make sure that each ‘princess’ was a different type without being a stereotype, but how? And why?

I’ll open up these 2 topics in a minute, but first, to quickly address the issues of ‘why “princess”?‘ and ‘why “Ottoman” Princess?’:

  1. The ‘Princess’ (and certainly not the Turkish ‘prenses’) in ‘Ottoman Princess’ does not refer to a member of a royal family, it refers to ‘what we call little girls’. It suggests a lot of things, and I hope here it evokes two opposite ideas: first, the idea of being ‘special and privileged’ and second, the idea of being ‘frail and in need of protection’. In either case, the ‘princess’ is NOT real. And it’s important to realize that ALL THE PRINCESSES ARE BASED ON REAL WOMEN, BUT NONE OF THEM ARE REAL WOMEN.
  2. The ‘Ottoman’ (‘Osmanlı’- from the ‘Royal House of Osman’) in ‘Ottoman Princess’ is not connected with any contemporary sociopolitical effort to distinguish between ‘Ottomans’ and ‘Turks’. The idea to use the image of a 19th-century ‘Ottoman’ woman along with 21st-century ‘Turkish’ women came from the fact that the original engravings of Ottoman women were NOT images of REAL women: they were images of a Western fantasy of Eastern women; in other words, they were filled with ‘ideas’ about ‘others’: They were saying (in a visual language), ‘THIS WOMAN IS SOMEONE WHO I AM NOT.’

So, now that that’s out there, back to the questions of why I want to present images of ‘not-stereotypes’ and how I am going to do it.

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Why: because (as the 19th-century Western male artists and publishers of ‘Ottoman Princesses’ probably knew), it’s easy to dismiss someone who is ‘other’ (read: inferior, mistaken). It is less easy to step into their shoes (or in the case of my installation, into their clothes) and try to see what it is that you have in common with them, try to understand them.  I think that is important, but I don’t think it’s easy; heck, I don’t understand all the princesses, and I’m the one making them!

Interestingly, the PROCESS of making them is helping me to understand them. I wonder if this is what a novel-writer goes through when s/he invents a character. I am sitting with these sketches on my work table, and I am trying to understand, ‘WHO IS THIS WOMAN?’

One princess seems to ‘want’ to have her hair coiffed up (Trying to impress someone? Or forced into a social role?), another has short hair (Easier to handle? Oh, my god, is she a lesbian with a buzz cut??),  a couple of princesses have cell phones in their hands (at the moment; I’m still not sure if this ubiquitous  21st-century is going to be replaced with something else), and one has got a garden tool and some kind of vegetable (at least she will;  or maybe she’ll be holding some weeds. I can’t decide yet).

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Interestingly, the easiest woman for me to draw has been the one who is covered in black from head to toe. It’s easier for me, because I don’t have to decide what she’s got on underneath; I don’t need to know if she’s wearing high heels or sneakers (or high-heeled sneakers), a high-buttoned blouse or a sleeveless t-shirt… In short, she’s the ‘princess’ I least understand. She’s also the one I LEAST want to be. I must admit, I am having a hard time feeling any empathy for her. I don’ particularly like her – which is strange to say, because I’ve already admitted that I don’t really know her. If I don’t know her, how can I say I don’t like her?

And there in a nutshell is what this is about.

(I’ll be posting more on this project here. If you’re interested, be sure to “follow’ this blog. You can also “follow” the Ottoman Princess blog to see what happens after the exhibit opens (‘more to come’), and sign up to the Ottoman Princess facebook page for all types of related information (which you can add to as well).

Ottoman Princess : The Blog

Update: My latest installation – “Have Your Photograph Taken as an Ottoman Princess” – will be included in the upcoming Bodrum Biennial opening on 12 September.

In addition to information about the project (in Turkish and English), the Ottoman Princess blog will post news about violence against women in general (unfortunately there is a lot of that) as well as artwork addressing the issue. (Since there appears to be more bad news than good news, I would particularly welcome contributions of good news from anyone who has any. The best way to pass on this news is by joining the Ottoman Princess facebook page (in Turkish and English) and posting there, and I’ll repost to the blog.)

People who visit the exhibition and have their photos taken as an Ottoman Princess will also be able to post them on the facebook page, and I’ll repost to the blog, so that they’ll form a running exhibition catalog.

Finally… Since I try to give a high priority to ‘demystifying’ what it is that artists do, I’ll try to post ongoing information about the process of putting together the exhibition. For the background information on the exhibition, you can go to the Indiegogo Ottoman Princess page. The project is already funded (thanks to all who donated), but the site will be up through the 15th of August, which is the official end of the fundraising campaign, and it has the most detailed information to date.

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I’ll be posting here on this blog, so please ‘follow’ if you want to get the updates on the proect, and then I’ll either be linking or reposting to the Ottoman Princess (have to get the ‘technical details’ worked out on that).

And as they say somewhere, ‘Thank you for your interest.’