Reflections on Leaving One for Another
A Closer Look at the Work of Olgaç Bozalp
By Incisu Dilem Üzüm Veldhuizen
It came natural to me to enter a dialogue with Olgaç Bozalp's photographs. Perhaps it is because of our shared cultural background, the concepts he uses to convey his stories through photography, or the imagery that is a direct reference to home to me. I saw his work for the first time in Foam Talent 2022, and I remember staring at them for a long time. Not only their subject, but the fictional compositions of his photographs caught my attention. I especially remember seeing this photo —many questions arose about what I saw. First thought was: what year is it and why did Bozalp include a portrait of an old president, Turgut Özal, who was generally liked but also kind of disliked?”
Was he a political fan or was this Bozalp’s sense of humour? After focusing on the aquarium in the centre, I thought: why is this motherly figure laying in an aquarium in her traditional Anatolian clothing?
What attracts me in this photo is the references it makes to the imagery that I know from home, back in Turkey. Its political and apolitical stories can be seen in a single shot. Political, in the sense of a feeling of suffocation that people often mention experiencing due to economic crises, turbulent politics, and power relations between the portrait and the figure in the tank. Apolitical, because of the inner texture of an Anatolian house, the London wall clock that almost suggests it was bought from a dollar store or was taken back as a souvenir to ‘share the experience’ with loved ones, the fake flowers attached to Özal's portrait for decoration. But also, the wall colour darkened around the electric socket by being painted in one too many layers, the motif-carpet which covers the floor, plastic purple slippers floating on the water, like a pair of slippers hitting the shore on the seaside of a not so fancy beach town in Turkey. And finally, out of both realities, a deep breath is exhaled in the water. Bubbles rising, as if the person seems to be drowning, but yet in no panic whatsoever.
My eyes are constantly drawn to the flower-dazzled portrait of Özal. So many people in Turkey question where their home is because of the deeply embedded and extremely complicated politics of the country.
Bozalp's exhibition at MAQAM is about transmigration: not the point you have reached, but the route you have taken - the journey. The question is, how do you know if your journey will ever end, when are you ever sure your home is here or there? At times, even though I wish to be in my comfort zone—the blue-walled home in (for my case) Istanbul—I often find myself emotionally closer to the feeling of being in a fish tank, a transparent aquarium, surrounded by people.
Perhaps Bozalp also felt that when he was in London starting out as a photographer, similar to what I felt when I first moved to the Netherlands to study. After all, we have a saying in Turkish: Sudan çıkmış balığa dönmek ("feeling like a fish out of water"), meaning ‘the difficulty adapting to a new environment after leaving your own habitat’. Perhaps that is why there is a certain discomfort to his imagery here. As a viewer, I am intuitively expecting the woman in the fish tank to be seated on (an imaginary) chair in her blue-walled home, with a brewing Turkish tea on an imaginary countertop. Instead, she is laying out of her comfort zone.
About Incisu Dilem Üzüm Veldhuizen
Incisu Dilem Üzüm Veldhuizen (1991), born and raised in Istanbul, moved to Rotterdam in 2017 for love and obtained a master's degree in Arts & Heritage Studies a year later. Over the last few years, Incisu worked for various cultural institutions such as Foam, Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, and Museum Rotterdam, in both curating and project managing positions. As of August 2023, she works at the National Archive of The Netherlands in The Hague.
About the artist
Olgaç Bozalp (b. 1987, Turkey) is a visual artist with a fictional approach to documentary photography. His photographic research explores topics connected to travel, cultural identity, and migration. Through the juxtaposition of Western and non-Western beauty, masculinity, and femininity, his art promotes a more diversified understanding of these concepts and challenges their traditional roles. Olgaç became Foam Talent in 2022. His photographs have been published by T Magazine, Dazed, Le Monde, and Atmos as well as exhibited in Aperture Gallery, Unseen, National Portrait Gallery and Sharjah Art Foundation.
This article was created in light of the multi-year project Kısmet, an initiative created and developed in close collaboration between Studio Polat and Foam. The project is inspired by longstanding cultural, diplomatic and economic ties between Turkey and the Netherlands. Kısmet delves into the diverse and intricate facets of Turkish visual culture, as seen through the lens of different generations of image makers.
The article is part of a series under the name A Closer Look, where a selection of creative professionals, with an affinity for visual culture from Turkey, reflect on an image from one of the Kısmet exhibitions.
The exhibition 'Leaving One For Another' is part of Kısmet, a close collaboration between Studio Polat and Foam. Kısmet has been made possible by the generous support of the Mondriaan Fund.
The exhibition is made possible by VandenEnde Foundation and Kleurgamma Fine-Art Photolab.
Foam is supported by the VriendenLoterij, Foam Members, De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek, VandenEnde Foundation and the Gemeente Amsterdam.