Mapping Istanbul’s Istiklal Avenue: Uncovering the traces of female ethnicity in Turkish film, architecture and sound through fine art practice.
Chelsea College of Arts
This practice-led research investigates the problematic representations of women from ethnic minorities in the context of Turkey. It questions the ways in which Turkish cinema conceals the ‘other’ ethnic and cultural differences and represents female identity. It seeks to address this problem through newly created artworks: a series of animation and video works aiming to evoke traces of ‘other’ female ethnicities in Turkish society. The case study, Istiklal Avenue, is an important location that was formerly inhabited by ethnic minorities and was the birthplace of Turkish cinema (Yeşilçam) in 1914. This location forms a platform for the research to find new forms of representation through spatial mappings in the specially created artworks.
The thesis is situated in relation to the existing literature on historical representations, from the late nineteenth-century Ottoman Istanbul to the period that marks the Istanbul Pogrom (1955), and to contemporary representations of women, especially Asuman Suner and Gönül Dönmez-Colin’s analyses of non- Muslim women in New Turkish Cinema. The methodological approach of the thesis is shaped by the investigation of Turkish cinema and site-specific research at Istiklal Avenue. Svetlana Boym’s (2001) idea that cultural references are usually hidden within the details of ‘reflective nostalgia’ films is an important concept which is referred to throughout the thesis. The term ‘shock effect’, which Suner (2010) employs for Turkish reflective nostalgia films, is used in the thesis to describe moments of rupture in the collective memory and consciousness of Turkish society regarding the histories of the ethnic and religious minorities of Turkey. Visual and aural dissonances are created in the artworks to evoke traces of these histories. The first artwork uses the voice-over of the female protagonist Madame Lena in the film Whistle If You Come Back (1993) to create an audio-visual and spatial map for these repressed identities, but the female voice in the final artwork generates a more intensified evocative experience, described by adopting Catherine Clément’s term ‘rapture’ (1994). The research also looks at the difference between ethnic identities through the spoken Turkish of ethnic minorities of an older generation, to explore the viewing of the artworks in different cultural contexts.
As well as theoretical and historical research into the female voice, architectural and other visual details are used as research material to make artworks. On-site investigations reveal how various film techniques and montages inform cognitive and psychogeographic mapping, which is put into practice to achieve a spatial understanding of Istiklal Avenue. This investigation leads to the discovery of Botter House, a culturally and historically significant building, which enables the thesis to examine female presence in public space by investigating the flâneuse of the nineteenth-century Istiklal Avenue.
Through the artworks, this study proposes that spatial representations, reconstructed from visual and vocal details, can contribute to the representation of repressed ethnic identities, and can question the politics of the representation of ethnic minority women in Turkey.