Title: Blowing my cover or something like that
Medium: Video performance
The work is commissioned by visual artist, curator and researcher Abdullah Qureshi for his three-year multidisciplinary project titled: ‘Mythological Migrations: Imagining Queer Muslim Utopias.’ It is part of his on-going doctoral studies at Aalto University, that contextualizes narratives and experiences of LGBTIQ+ Muslim immigrants in Islamic mythologies, history, and contemporary art. Last year he organized the first artistic component of the project, Chapter 1: The Nightclub
In Chapter 2: The Darkroom, he is interested in looking at erotic spaces and practices that are traditionally understood as sexually promiscuous, and thus, morally rejected or pushed to the peripheries by the dominant heteronormative society, challenging and re-claiming histories of orientalism, activating and disrupting spaces that are otherwise considered dangerous, and opening up the possibilities of sex and gender expression from queer Muslim and migratory perspective. My film ‘Blowing my cover or something like that’ is part of this chapter.
The video describes a journey. Regardless of the covered body, it looks at invisibility as a political possibility. It is a process of experimentation with hand gestures, dance and body language, exploring femininity and masculinity, and ethnic representatives against nationalism.
The video is an imagining of visibility for a diverse range of identities and desires. It questions if all LGBTQ people, or sexual minorities, should adopt Western models of gay visibility as a universal model regardless of their social, cultural, or national backgrounds? And what happens when you don't look the part?
In the video, I tried to look at this complex issue from my own ethnic, social and sexual background. As a Turkish/Syrian-Arab/British/Queer body, how could I avoid choosing between my sexuality and ethnic identity? Does this assume the mutual exclusivity of being gay and Turkish, coming from the East but living in the West. Is this a crisis of being exposed to more than one culture and perhaps, at the same time, not entirely belonging to either?
To me, the border between visibility and nonconformity has become important in the work. Darkness of the darkroom, a place where we are unable to see, is represented by the figure’s invisibility. He is in darkness where we can’t identify him but he is still able to point. Like in a darkroom, what happens when you hide the body completely in places where the expectation is absolute visibility and where you are expected to behave within social norms to fit in? Isn’t this a major problem in society when someone doesn’t fit in? Aren’t we all afraid of ‘the other’, the one who we cannot identify?
During my performances, I still claim privacy and I am hidden. I see the dancer as a nostalgic utopian figure with extravagance and radical difference. Evading traditional categorizations of visibility, the figure is a reminder to include Islamic queer perspectives into the Western understanding of sexuality, in order to widen social identities and self- definitions. The video is leading viewers to move within different environments which are sometimes constructed as nature, sometimes roads, sometimes hammams, labyrinths or a dance clubs. During this journey I tried to form new fantasies and arranged the performance with a repertoire of music from my childhood, archived footage, lyrics, a poem and spoken words.
In this sentimental and personal journey, I tired to question patriarchal nationalism against queer modernity while the film transfer itself from calm transition to complex collage. For example I used ‘yearning’ as a metaphor when I included lyrics of a song called Annem (Mother) by Zeki Muren. This metaphor is related to the struggles that queer people or any minorities face in the West. I feel whenever a problem occurs we turn our face to the homeland, in my case to Turkey, where clashes between secular nationalism and Islamic authoritarianism are never ending. Nevertheless from far away, everything seems better than it actually is.
The performance ends with the figure caught in a deadlock of crashes between a global sexual democracy and the lack of ethnic representatives. It leaves us with one last question: In an impossibly modern present time, how can we deconstruct traditional values in terms of acceptance against the patriotic history of learned behaviour? The question takes me back to the Chapter 2: The Darkroom. My attempt here is not only entering those spaces freely, but also creating opportunities to introduce the culture I carry.
Soundtrack Mix: Subash Thebe (Songs inspired by Mohamed Houssein (Maryam Maryamti), Zeki Müren (Annem), Nils Frahm (All Melody), Nicolas Jaar (Mi Mujer)
Costume: Lilia Yip
Camera: Tomasz Migdal