The works of Aykan Safoğlu forge relationships — even friendships — across cultural, geographic, linguistic, as well as temporal boundaries and make open-ended enquiries into cultural belonging, creativity, and kinship. His latest cinematographic work ziyaret, visit —the second part of a trilogy —is an attempt to sensitively deal with loss and transgression while visiting graves on the Old St. Matthew's Cemetery in Berlin. The encounters between Safoğlu and Gülşen Aktaş — a Kurdish activist, feminist, and longtime friend — with personalities (among them May Ayim, Ovo Maltine, Helga Goetze, Hedwig Dohm, Birgit Rommelspacher and Gülşen's mother Şirin Aktaş) and tales buried in the West Berlin cemetery testify to the persistence of their biographies marked by activism and passages into the present time. Interested in gender politics, LGBTIQ communities and queer activism, Safoğlu came to understand this cemetery as an archeological site for both the visual and the symbolic to uncover histories/herstories often neglected, erased or rewritten by the dominant culture in contemporary Germany.
In the 1980s Audre Lorde —an African-American feminist poet —came to West Berlin where, she, together with others, formed a feminist circle of women of color. One of the most prolific members of this group, May Ayim, co-editor of the bookShowing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, is buried on the Old St. Matthew's Cemetery. In ziyaret, visit, Safoğlu’s voice addresses his friend Gülşen: “May Ayim: an Afro-German poet and friend of yours. ‘Migrated too soon from this Earth,’ you once said.” In photography, like in migration, the itinerary may be clear, yet prone to accidents.
In Safoğlu’s new work,analogue photography reveals the fragile and cellular boundaries of a world oscillating between existence and disappearance, while at the same time rendering visible transitioning processes such as migration, radicalization, and personal development as fragments of a timescape. “Like a photo or a film strip, the people and tales buried on the cemetery represent different time segments and strips of this entirety.” 1 The developed middle format images are only visible a very short glimpse of time, while the negatives slowly appear due to the mechanical processes of scanning: as if these scans gained access to some hidden information, or second-level truth not available to the image itself. The appearance of those ghostly-looking scans is carried out like an imprint of the passing of time. Can the process of scanning reveal the different frequencies of time captured in photographs?
By emphasizing the supposed voids and the unpopular stories around the well-known West Berlin cemetery, Safoğlu carefully translates them into metaphors for societal dynamics in Germany. Hereby, Safoğlu’s metaphors not only operate on the shift of meaning —by replacement, by implication, or by juxtaposition —but it rather suggests a playful and versatile use of the „seen“: what happens when we take these metaphors literally? While Safoğlu’s linguistic inquiry performs a social rhetoric, the textual and visual layers disclose a factuality which is not widely shared. By excavating a dialectic ground between life and death, Safoğlu turns the cemetery into a prolific site for the archeology of feeling.
1 Aykan Safoğlu, I Wanted to Photograph You, 2019, www.schloss-post.com
Aykan Safoğlu (born 1984, Istanbul, Turkey) lives and works in Istanbul and Berlin. His recent exhibitions include Off-White Tulips, Ystad's Konstmuseum, Ystad (solo exhibition, 2016/17), Klassensprachen, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (2018); ğ – soft g – queer forms migrate, Schwules Museum* Berlin (2017); Father Figures are Hard to Find, nGbK Berlin (2016); Home Works Forum 7, Ashkal Alwan (Beirut, 2015); Sight and Sounds: Turkey, Jewish Museum (New York, 2014). His film Off-White Tulips (2013) was awarded with the Grand Prize of the City of Oberhausen at the 59th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen.
The work ziyaret, visit was realized on the occasion of Aykan Safoğlus residency at Akademie Schloss Solitude, 2018, and partly financed by the Berlin Senate Chancellery – Cultural Affairs.
☞ Artist talk: Given your convenient absence
with Aykan Safoğlu and Masha Godovannaya
Feb 23, 2019, 6 pm