Turkish artist Nilbar Güreş on using humour and fabric to craft her own political language.
You may have caught Güreş’ subversive representations of women at the 2010 Berlin Biennale or in her brilliantly deadpan video Undressing at the Jewish Museum last year. If not, fear not: she’s back with her first Berlin solo show at Galerie Tanja Wagner. Her unique brand of pan-medium humour, socio-political critique and handcraft is also currently on view in the group show Colony at Berlin’s Schwules Museum. Güreş, who works between Istanbul and Vienna, sat down with us to talk about her work and what inspires her.
Your work is often called “political” – what does that mean to you?
I feel that racists and fascists are in power everywhere, some openly using religion as a weapon, and some more covertly. I am angry about this and I think a lot of people feel the same. I have a personal language for dealing with political issues. I don’t say things directly; I don’t present photographs of protests as art. It’s not my language. But my work does address the issues faced by oppressed groups, such as LGBTQA+ people. Most art lovers have a comfortable life and don’t want to be disturbed by these politics. I think it’s important to change this hard-hearted attitude.
What are the politics at play behind the piece How I Met Your Mom, for example?
The work is the silhouette of a woman at her window and a man, hiding his penis, trying to flirt with her from below. It’s about the idea that we all have bodies and how religions try to put distances between them, with cloth and rules. It also references animism and all the beliefs that existed before colonialism. The mother could be from any of the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Islam or Catholicism. I don’t like any of them.
Your work crosses multiple mediums, and in pieces such as Snake: Violet you combine ready-made elements with high handcraft. How important is medium to what you produce?
I think medium whispers to us about the artist. I would say I am a painter though, because I always start every work with a drawing. Works using fabric always hold something personal for me. A lot of the fabrics I use are those I collected as a child and asked my mother to keep for me. Cold elements don’t speak to me, I like a certain softness in my mediums: they can mould, integrate, change and move.
Where did you source the fabric for The Lovers?
That came from my dowry box and is very old material. The figures are a lesbian couple, made from two parts of a long pillow usually given to a couple on their wedding night. The saying in Turkish is, “I hope you get old on the same pillow”. I wanted to show that this pillow could be split, to give more space to each person, but still keep them together.
Humour is an integral element in your work – what is its worth to you as an artistic device?
Humour means hope. That is all.
Nilbar Güreş: Jumping Bed and Female Lovers Through Apr 13 | Galerie Tanja Wagner, Schöneberg
Colony Through Apr 15 | Schwules Museum, Tiergarten