Sinan Tuncay ironically makes visible the elements of the heteronormative culture of Turkey in his works. In the Reserved for the Man I've Never Become (2019) series, the artist explores the cultural cliques and spaces he never felt a part of growing up in the heteronormative machismo culture of Turkey. With inspiration from the Ottoman miniature painting tradition, the Public Intimacy (2015) series, comprised of photographic collages, brings to light the sense of ownership Turkish society feels over a woman’s body through the highly ritualized process of marriage.
You can listen to our conversation in Turkish with Sinan Tuncay about social rituals as a source of anxiety, the sanctions of places on the body, and the painful relationship between the individual and society in the podcast series accompanying OMM’s “Don’t Look Back Deep is the Past'' exhibition.
OMM: The exhibition features two of your collage series, as well as a third artwork. Your Public Intimacy series can be described as a digital collage or miniature. The collages in this series show scenes from a traditional wedding, like the bridal bath and the first night. In each scene, we encounter a crowd as well as a somewhat singled-out protagonist and feel their anxiety. What was your starting point for this series?
Sinan Tuncay: My point of departure was how miniatures were instrumental in keeping a record of the history of Ottoman sultans. They were a form of narrative history that reflected life in the Ottoman court. I wanted to use this format to tell stories of the present day, stories about gender.
The series is called “Public Intimacy.” I wanted to talk about how an act as intimate as two people starting a life together becomes a public matter, a conversation the society partakes in. These are some very crowded scenes, yet they also contain a sense of loneliness and anxiety. In the end, it turned into a series about the individual trying very hard to get into a character, a form forced upon them—and failing at that—while being closely observed by so many people.
In your other series in the exhibition, Reserved for the Men I’ve Never Become, the many Sinans in the collages take us on a journey in Turkey’s macho culture in extremely masculine spaces that are almost entirely inaccessible to women.
It was an interesting process to arrive at Reserved for the Men I’ve Never Become after Public Intimacy. Before Reserved, I was the one behind the camera. With it, I became a part of the artwork. It comes from a very personal place: Ever since I was a child, I always kept a distance from groups of men, standing outside the circle, so to speak. I noticed that I was failing at displaying certain forms of behavior that are expected from a boy, a maturing male.
With this project, I aimed to beam myself back into those moments of “failing.” Using my own self, I followed the question, “What if I was a part of a group like that, or what if that group consisted of versions of me?” The learned behaviors of how to stand like a man, stare like a man, “manliness,” as it was taught to me throughout the years, informed my reading of the subject. And I was surprised to realize how I knew them all by heart. They simply flowed out of me. For example, one of the scenes shows children playing soccer on the street, another involves military barracks. There is a visit to the brothel, a wedding scene. Things that I have never done, never was, wasn’t able to, did not partake in. Yet I ask, “What would it look like had I done it?”
I set out for a reading of masculinity at large based on my process and experiences. Because I know this is not just something that I experience—and it doesn’t matter whether you are a man or woman. We all carry the societal roles we are saddled with.
I Have a Carry-on (2019) is also on view as part of “Don’t Look Back, Deep is the Past,” and I feel like it speaks directly to what we just talked about. This work shows the contents of a paper doll’s suitcase, his clothes, and props.
When working on I Have a Carry-on, I tried to unearth what remains after we remove the subject—what would his clothes, accessories, and props alone say? As chronologic and traumatic as it is to me, I Have a Carry-on also presents a reading of gender in popular culture. It is a “baggage” that I carry, that we all carry in different ways.
When the “Reserved for the Men I’ve Never Become” exhibition opened, there were a few reactions that surprised and exhilarated me. Among them was the following question: We always talk about patriarchy and toxic masculinity but never take a closer look at it. We never talk about what goes into the “making of a man.” There is an order that raises men, starting from childhood. That system is the one that needs to be questioned and where we need to look for an answer. The question is, “Why do we raise boys the way we do?”