How does a new generation of image-makers from Turkey use photography to reflect on the world around them?
As part of the multi-year project Kısmet, this online group exhibition gives a snapshot of the emerging community of contemporary image-makers from Turkey. Kısmet is inspired by longstanding cultural, diplomatic and economic ties between Turkey and the Netherlands and delves into the diverse and intricate facets of Turkish visual culture, as seen through the lens of different generations of image-makers. Here, we present the work of four talented visual artists, born after 1990, whose voices will shape the vast visual landscape in Turkey, and beyond, in the upcoming years.
Showing a diverse range of visual styles, what connects these four artists is the profound personal investment they put in their work. Their photography holds a personal dimension that goes beyond ‘merely’ having an affinity for the chosen subject matter. Rather, their practice and the resulting bodies of work reveal a deep connection to their perception of the world around them. What stands out are the distinct translations of their inner worlds, whether this is in the methodology, subject matter or aesthetics.
For Oğulcan Arslan, the personal comes forward not only through the story he documents, but also through photographic techniques he uses. In All the Rivers Flow in the Nuthouse, he intimately captures a friendship by adjusting light, exposure and composition to the emotions he experiences himself or from his friend.
Alp Peker finds solace in their photographic practice to voice their protest against unspoken issues and social taboos they experience on a daily basis. Their photographs, shown here under the title Amel Defteri: a Notebook of Deeds, are an ode to the community Alp lives in, their goals, struggles, and weirdnesses.
Kıvılcım S. Güngörün defines her work as autobiographical fiction. The collages in I Lab Yu are a direct translation of her inner workings: intuitive visual responses to questions that pop into her mind, or new questions that arise during the process.
Finally, in The Dispossessed, Cansu Yıldıran studies the power dynamics and gender inequality that they encountered in their ancestral village in Northern Turkey. Inspired by the personal stories of the women of their family, Cansu creates emotional atmospheres that investigate their own sense of identity, of belonging and the continuous search for a safe space.
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All the Rivers Flow in the Nuthouse
One day, working as a volunteer at a state-run mental health facility, Oğulcan Arslan found one of the inhabitants stuck in a fence with his jacket. When he proposed to help, the boy replied: “I'm thinking about where the inside is and where the outside, here or there”.
A friendship started. For around two years, Oğulcan visited the institution every week, and started photographing around the facility’s strict boundaries: its inhabitants, its surroundings.
In All the Rivers Flow in the Nuthouse, Oğulcan visualises the way a person who suffers from schizophrenia views the world. The resulting series beautifully captures a fragmented, emotional and poetic narrative. The connections between the portraits and abstract images are subtle references to an emotional state, or metaphors that relate to the situation inside the mental health system: hands refer to the risk of reaching out to substances again while empty forests symbolise the feeling of being lost.
Every visit, he exchanged small gifts with his new friend, Mehmet, who loved to wear red. Simple items, often shiny—as a token of their friendship and a promise to return. Oğulcan carefully incorporates these elements in his methodology: shiny backgrounds, the recurring use of the colour red. In his practice, he uses tangible ways to capture shifting emotions: for example, the amount of light used in a photo corresponds to the mood of his friend at the time.
The series shows an intimate testimony of friendship. At the same time it is an acute criticism of the problems within the health care system, begging the viewer to reflect on what in fact is 'outside’ and what is ‘inside’.
"The schizophrenic who loves to wear red said, 'All rivers flow in the nuthouse. I can always see the places I've been, look I see, I see, I can see when I squint my eyes a little and fix them with my fingers.'"
"Yes, he could, and I wished I could see them, too. What I thought was whether after completing the essential adjustments with my eyes and my fingers, if my memories could turn into electrical signals and come alive in front of my eyes like a TV screen or not. Maybe my friend who loves wearing red could do that, but before long, I noticed that that could not go further than an idea for me. As days passed and my visits increased, I started to get used to this place. I no longer felt like an outsider. The person whom I get along with the most was my friend, who loves wearing red until his medications were elevated, and he was turned into a remote-controlled toy."
—Text by Oğulcan Arslan
Amel defteri: A Notebook of Deeds
For Alp Peker, images are their manifesto. What on first glance may appear as vibrant, whimsical and witty photographs, reveal elaborate social commentaries at a closer look.
Fuelled by protests against the many injustices they encounter around them on a daily basis in Turkish society, Alp Peker uses photography to criticise not just one, but many societal issues: from LGBTQIA+ and women rights to freedom of press and climate change.
Alp uses ordinary, household objects and connects them to a social political reality that is on their mind. A crown made of party poppers now signifies the relationship between youth and religion; pacifiers resemble the restrictions on freedom of press; computer keys become a complaint against cyber bullying.
Using this recurring approach, Alp carefully places objects on top of their own or other people’s faces—creating a composed 'still life portraiture’. The results are visually striking, bold and often comical. But the underlying message is profound: photography is Alp’s way to pledge to their true absurd self: a self that is free from taboos, social norms or society’s expectations.
I lab yu
From a young age, Kıvılcım S. Güngörün collects things. What started with simple objects like rubbers, spoons, or garbage, soon extended to photographs, moments and ultimately questions.
At the heart of her project, I lab yu, lie questions, perhaps it’s even the core of her overall practice. Funny, philosophical, sometimes full-on existential: they pop into her mind, in dreams or on the street.
Her love for collecting found its way into her artistic practice. Starting her collages as a daily practice, Kıvılcım uses digital tools to mix up analogue and digital photographs, sometimes adding screenshots (of screenshots) of other collages, decreasing the visual quality as the layers multiply.
The resulting collages are visual sentences that may end with a question mark—reality becomes increasingly obscure in the process. What is strictly a photo and what is a collage is not relevant: they exist in a visual amalgam where they share the same roots, and their form is fluid. All works are interconnected and ever-changing. Every new creation represents a specific moment in time, which captures Kıvılcım’s emotional state of mind, causing her extensive archive to morph continuously.
This story takes place in a fictional dream lab. Kıvılcım places her daily experiences, questions and observations under a microscope; assembling, disassembling, and thus creating her own laboratory of life.
In the Black Sea region in Northern Turkey, villages like Çaykara come in pairs. For each village in the valley, there exists a settlement in the highlands. Centuries long, local inhabitants and their cattle have migrated seasonally between the two. The communities are closely knit and secluded—any intruder risks being exposed through the mosque speakers. By tradition, ownership of this land can only pass onto sons, excluding the female side of the family entirely.
From a young age, during their summers in Çaykara, Cansu Yıldıran slowly grew aware of the lack of ownership and inaccessibility to the land, experienced by their mother, aunts and other women of her ancestral village. Returning as an adult, they intuitively started photographing the landscape, women, and cattle, building a visual narrative in search for a sense of belonging.
Their series The Dispossessed unfolded over the years revisiting the village: a gradual and intimate investigation of identity, dispossession, and gender inequality.
The visual narrative is told through a variety of photographic styles, from documentary to more abstract, blurred and black-and-white photographs, adding an emotional and immersive quality to the images. There is an elusive feeling to Cansu’s photographs, evoked by the foggy landscapes, the overexposed faces, and grainy textures, which symbolises the invisible hand of tradition continuing to hold its grip.
"My mother, Ayşe. The photo was taken right after my mother told me about the 'Vargit' flower. 'Vargit' is a yellow and white flower that grows in the highlands. Whenever this flower starts to cover the highland ground, it means that winter has approached the area—it means departure from the plateau. My mother said that she likened this flower to herself and to the daughters of the highlands. This made a lasting impression on me. Because she is a woman who is very aware of the ostracism she has experienced, but is left too helpless to do anything about it. This project helped to strengthen the bond between me and my mother."
"In the Black Sea highlands, women generally know how to use weapons. Because they live together with wild animals."
"Especially in the past, there were animals such as cows, sheep and goats in every house. This is how families made their living. However, this culture cannot be transferred because the younger generation does not want to come to the highlands anymore."
"Men in the highlands usually go to the coffee house where they gather during the day and sit with their friends. During this time, the women cook, look after the children, milk the cows, take care of the housework, and arrange the vegetables and fruits in the garden. In addition, the women wash the men's clothes and iron them."
—quotes by Cansu Yıldıran
exhibitions within Kısmet
next: Empowering the voices of Amsterdam’s youth through photography