“Feminist theory tells that, personal is political; and by doing this, it does not imply that the things that are private to us will be exhibited. On the contrary, it means that the things that are personal to us are being controlled by the system, and it questions this system.  The “personal lives," which are the themes of my works also do not aim to expose private things; quite the opposite, they are constructed with a perspective that questions the ‘body politics’ of the system.”

“Interview with Canan”, by Ferda Caglayan, February 2010, Evrensel Kultur”

CANAN, who defines herself as an activist feminist, takes the relation between the social power structure and the body of the women as the theme of her new works; and displays them through a stunning exhibition.

During the 1990’s, the artist preferred to use a realistic language like videos, photography and documentaries, and usually described her body as a figure in the paintings. Then, she started to portray her works as miniatures that are intensive both in the visual representation and symbolism. During the same period, she also positioned herself as the “storyteller," and used collages she made from miniatures, to edit them as video animations with the approach of documentaries and sensation of fairy tales.

In this recent exhibition, we see all different types of narration styles, like realistic, symbolic and mystical/symbolic (paintings in relation with alchemy), coming together in her latest works. Furthermore, we understand that the subject in these works is both the figure of the woman, who is represented in the society and the artist herself.  

The video titled “Turkish Delight” is presented at the video room with a projection and the surrounding monitors. In this video, which criticizes the oriental art and art history; the paintings that have become the symbol of the Orientalist Era are reanimated by the artist. She emphasizes the importance of art history as a visual history reading and points out the formula that Foucault mentioned in his essay about Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon (1791), which is subjugation by means of ‘potency through transparency’ and ‘clarification’.

This is an appropriate image, particularly for the eroticized portrayal of the Muslim women, generally done by violating harem symbolically, and increasing the transparency of the walls of harem and veils. In this case, the sexual panopticism (being able to see everything) of the West, really emerges to assume power over the East, possess them through voyeurism and conquer them by striping. (Irvin Cemil Schick, “Sexual Coast of the West – Sexuality and Spatiality in Diversifying Discourse)

The artist, who dances with the music on the video that is projected, nearly stands still and poses under the camera lights during the shooting of the video that is shown on the monitors; she plays the role of oriental women figures on the painting. While portraying the woman, who was once peeped by using the technique ‘clarification’, she keeps her body ‘under control’ all through the shooting, and edits the same work as a video, instead of a photograph.

Lyrics of the song that is a part of the video are written by the artist, who answers the Orientalist perspective daringly, and recorded together with the artist group Hazavuzu.


Turkish Delight (The lyrics of the video titled “Turk Lokumu” (Turkish Delight))

I, the blossom of East
With citrus double tit
No matter Georgian or Circassian
We are all Oriental beauties of merit

They call me concubine
Harem is full of courtesan
Over my eyes black kohl line
On a pillow I recline
Come warm in my shrine

Muslim, naive, reserved,
We lay on a sofa stripped
Sultan wants us protected
Eunuchs covered entire district

Fire of love fell into my loose pants
Untie my waistband with your hands
Impossible to put down these flames
Before my womb passionately trembles  

I served my Sultan some fancy wine
Now he sleeps at the room next to mine
Come close to me, do not decline
In between my legs, you will be fine

I am really fed up being a slave
Women here hysterically behave
These are all erotic paintings
You could not give up peepings

The fantasy of the West
Repeated itself with the rest
Stolen all these paintings are
Our hungry, greedy cock
Created the other not afar

They call me concubine
Rarely bondmaid, to redefine
Fez, hookah, lute, turban
The slit under my belly button
Defined my outfit, my fashion

Eastern women obeys
Your gaze intimidates
Thou cannot get away with your
Might over my body in all times

My grundle I tore
This story you swallow
Those paintings in whole
Are proclaimed Orientalist

Your mind is Orientalist
I am a feminist artist
These images are sexist
Enough, don’t be a colonialist

This work is titled Turkish delight
Art history must sometimes rewrite

CANAN tells that, “In order to criticize today, I definitely have to know what happened yesterday. In fact, miniatures help me to do this. As Water Benjamin once told, the spirit of an artwork and its physical manifestation are so genuinely and closely connected that, when their relation is presented in a proper manner, they are able to explain each other without any further interpretations.”

The miniatures that are chosen by the artist with conscious precision, and their visual presentation accompanied by deep symbolism, help us as an instrument to “ease” the reading. In her works titled “Ortunme Toreni” (Veiling Ceremony) and “Avrehan”, CANAN questions the authority of the rulership mechanisms like government, religion, society and family upon the person and the body, in detail.

Nevertheless, I try to comprehend some of CANAN’s works, different than the ones stated above, that particularly attract my attention and I believe to be an important breakpoint, again in the wide time period, when miniatures were created, however by slightly changing its geographical coordinates and comparing them with the paintings that are associated with alchemy.  Specifically, in her works named “Sehretu’n nar”, “Duslere Musallat Olan Sehvet Cini” (The Beast of Desire that Haunts the Dreams) and “Cann and CANAN”, the descriptions slightly differentiate from the classical language of miniatures, and we recognize the fears coming from her inner world, that are wrapped up tightly with the violent social oppression, which is not applied in front of others and is not talked about in the society.

“The spirit of an artwork and its physical manifestation,” as Benjamin once told, is not only seen in the depiction of the works, but it can also be recognized all through the gallery, from the usage of frames of the paintings to the choice of color for the gallery walls, from the lyrics that accompany the oriental dance to the set up and illumination of the space, with an approach that guards itself and reaches the viewer.                 

Esra Sarigedik Oktem

Turkish Delight Catalogue