Knockout, 2009

Istanbul 2010-a garden of forking paths

Paal Boee
Published in C-arts Magazine No. 14, pp. 28-33 (2010)

A common point of arrival in Istanbul is Taksim Square, which lies on top of the main street of the city’s European side, İstiklal Caddesi.
If your mission is to explore the art life of the city, which this year is named “European Capital of Culture”, you will not have to go far before you are caught up in the long row of galleries on the street.


Disquiet Shadow

One of the most interesting solo exhibitions in Istanbul at the moment is Ali Cabbar’s Disquiet Shadow at the Yapi Kredi Gallery.

After a three-year-long imprisonment following the military coup in Turkey in 1980, Cabbar immigrated to Australia for six years and then to Bruxelles, where he still lives. A very large part of his production in exile could be characterized as a study of how political suppression becomes internalized in the individual body, and accordingly, of the individual conditions–and impasses–of freedom struggle. Perhaps more than ever before, the current exhibition demonstrates the ingenuity with which Cabbar treats this theme using a simple drawing and printing technique.

On two opposite walls in the exhibition’s central room, two series of six wall prints (Face Cards I-II) depict acts of self-blinding and self-silencing respectively. The series can be read from left to right like a comic strip, almost as if they were snapshots of the stages in a magician’s show: the first series starts off with the artist standing upright, eyes open, arms hanging down. In the next four figures he twists and turns, covering his eyes with his hands. In the last one, his eyes have been erased, and he holds up his empty hands as if to demonstrate that he has not hidden them there.

Like in the Face Cards series, many of the works depict the artist’s body as suppressed or deprived of freedom, but at the same time a “disquiet shadow” often lurks behind his acts, defining their meaning, often contradicting his positions. The shadow sometimes points down at him as if judging his suppression as self-exerted and deserved, sometimes expressing the opposite of it, like when his tied hands cast a shadow of free doves behind his back.

The import of Cabbar’s simple variations is complex and deep: the body and its shadow both stand out as political signs, demonstrating how suppression may not only be disguised as freedom within a totalitarian culture but even implanted in the individual in such a way that he effectively blames it on himself, or even takes on the role of his own torturer.

Supposedly, therefore, Cabbar’s drawings are in their essence a battle with and within technique, over the power of representation of the body, which in the end seems to point back at the possibilities of art as a political medium.

This is especially visible in the series Pull the Strings, where the “strings” pulling the individual through hooks in his skin are identical to the color lines that compose the body’s striving movements of opposition. Perhaps more subtly than anywhere else, these wall prints incorporate the contradictory passivity/activity principle implied by Cabbar’s idea of the human being as a politically defined form.


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