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On the cheap: Kutluğ Ataman at the Istanbul Modern

December 7, 2010

Emma Philpott is a New Zealand journalist who cycled from London to Istanbul through very rural parts of Europe, hence she is determined to get a cultural fix while in Istanbul this winter. Her travel website is at She’ll be writing here while she’s in town to tell you what’s going on during the dreary.

Compelling enough as the subjects are on their own, watching the mid-career retrospective of artist and filmmaker Kutluğ Ataman’s work is an intensive activity. You’ll want to go check this exhibition out one of those cold and grey winter days – only problem is Istanbul isn’t getting any of those at the moment.

Currently on as a temporary exhibition in the basement of the Istanbul Modern, Ataman’s work has a whole lot more grit than the permanent floor above. Its worth the 12TL admission fee but go on a Thursday and you’ll get in for free.

Through the large video installations in ‘The Enemy Inside Me’, benign subjects become sinister, monologues go on for uncomfortable lengths and the audience is frequently sitting uncomfortably close or trapped inside the structures they are watching.

The first piece that will catch your eye is ‘Turkish Delight’ a video of the artist himself, spotlit on a platform, wiggling hips languidly in a garish belly dancer outfit. From a distance it looks disconcertingly like someone has been paid to stand there and twirl during opening hours.

Another room gives voice to four women who wear wigs – a university student reacting to the headscarf ban, a political activist, a transvestite, and a cancer survivor. A room with larger than life video portraits of homeless people loops through endless closeups of them begging. The most intimate piece depicts his childhood nanny who now barely remembers him.

While you’re in the building, a few gems are worth your attention in the permanent collection. Drop by for a short history of modern Turkish art, a few cubist oil wrestlers and a giant cut out elephant.

There’s enough footage in ‘The Enemy Inside Me’ to warrant a couple of visits before the exhibition closes on 6th March 2011. We’d recommend heading down as soon as the good weather disappears and then repeating the exercise in the depths of February. And its best on a Thursday when the Modern is open late and admission is free.

The Istanbul Modern is open Tuesday – Sunday from 10:00 – 18:00.
Thursdays are free and doors are open till 20:00.


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