A Lock of Hair…
Dr. Tuğçe Arslan
Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University Instructor
An empty room, a loom, and balls of dark chestnut hair on the floor… A past and future woven with its own strands of hair; a desire to imprison but to liberate in the same balance…
Mona Hatoum’s 1995 Recollection installation showed a small loom in a derelict room and hairballs randomly thrown on the floor. The hair in this installation exhibited by the artist was her own hair, which she had collected since 1989. 1 The artist, who kept the strands of hair she lost after each wash and after each combing act, in a shoe box, gathered the strands of hair that separated from her body with a slight push but actually of her own will, on a loom. The cross interlacing at the core of the act of weaving articulates each strand of hair on top of the other; each gap closed by this articulation was turning into a practice of constriction, entrapment, and confinement. But at the same time, the fact that the strands of hair left the “rooted” order in the body and created their own space by randomly being thrown to the ground also opened the door to a liberation. Hair was drawing attention to the issue of woman(ness) as an indicator, and was referring to the restraint of the woman who was stuck in the representation.
The Palestinian-British artist Hatoum’s, who produces works sensitive to feminist ideology and especially Middle Eastern women’s rights, Recollection practice is not a current practice, but unfortunately the fact that the argument the artist makes is up-to-date makes it necessary to remind the artist’s aforementioned work. Hatoum’s strands of hair that fall spontaneously intertwine and become knots on the same loom with the hair that women in Iran today and women in many other parts of the world in solidarity with them cut off in protest.
In September, Mahsa Jina Amini, just 22, was killed in Tehran by the Iranian morality police for failing to tie her hijab in accordance with government standards. Although Amini was said to have died of a heart attack by the authorities, eyewitnesses confirmed that the young woman died as a result of the physical violence she was subjected to. Was the main reason for the violence of the morality police here a few strands of hair coming out of the headscarf? Or was it the uneasiness caused by hair not being imprisoned towards women’s emancipation? Was a lock of hair escaping from the scarf a prelude to women’s acts of freedom? After Amini’s death as a result of the violence she was subjected to over the visibility of her hair, hundreds of women in Iran launched an unprecedented protest. The women who filled the squares wanted Amini’s perpetrator, but on the other hand, this lock of hair would have been instrumental in raising not only the problem of women’s headscarves, but also human rights.
A protester, whom the BBC refrained from using his real name due to security measures, but instead called Fawaz, stated that they always considered the possibility of not returning when they left the house due to the actions in which hundreds of women died. They said that with these actions, in which many people died and most of them were injured, due to the unrelenting violence of the police, they wanted to gain the freedom of assembly, organization, election and election, which is called ordinary life in the Western world.1 The visibility of the hair have now evolved into the battle of women’s visibility. The incurable relationship between hair and women’s freedom was occurring once again. Every lock of hair was attributed to the primitive forms of restraining the representation of women in our so-called ‘modern world’ in the present century.
Fulya Çetin is handling hair from another perspective in her current exhibition titled Uzadıkça Daha Yakın. In a one-minute video installation featured in the exhibition, a woman’s hair is braided with rhythmic hand movements. She dreams of bringing the hair of different women together in the tangled nature of the knitting action. Expressing that the contact with the hair reminds the feeling of trust based on her own personal experiences, the artist suggests that combing and braiding each other’s hair can be a good start. Çetin formed the basis of the idea of this work when she read the news that a migrant woman cut her hair to get rid of her weight in order to cross to the opposite shore with a boat. This braid is the image of a woman trying to cross the shore, or a young girl’s braid, which was cut so that it wouldn’t be heavy, left on the beach. The artist wanted to save this braid held by a man from that hand, and she drew the pattern of this image many times.1 The artist wants to show the feeling of peace that can be attained by women from different geographies touching each other’s hair with knitting patterns, some of which are included in the exhibition, Uzadıkça Daha Yakın.
The fact that women come into contact with each other strengthens their resistance. Çetin’s wish comes true after Amini. In many parts of the world, women shed their headscarves and cut their hair behind their headscarves to support their Iranian counterparts. This act of cutting out makes resistance to the system and a practice of liberation visible. This is an act of identity, women are trying to get rid of the anonymity regime ordered by a masculine authority. Virginia Woolf wrote that what prevents women from revealing themselves is a heirloom of chastity, which commands women to remain anonymous.1 The headscarf is precisely an object that aims to anonymize women, to standardize them, and to keep them from the regime of visibility. In the act of getting rid of the headscarf or cutting their hair, there is a desire of women to shape their bodies with their own will and an investment in the realization of this desire. I wish for the days when women can determine their own identity, when the primitive relation between hair and women is out of date and becomes history.
Dear Bronwyn and Marcus, you had a fantastic exhibition at Art Rooms last month. What can you say about this process and the exhibition preparation stage? The initial proposal and invitation by Başak Şenova to work together on an exhibition was an exciting one, it is the first time in our 15 year relationship that we’ve done something like this and we were curious. We identified early on that sharing a making and thinking space all these years has clearly influenced our individual practices and so we chose to begin with a simple action both of our processes often share. That of folding – the gentle manipulation of paper and ink. After that, with the generous support of Art Rooms we discovered a two-person show we are very happy with. We wanted to pack the entire exhibition into one large suitcase, this intrigued and excited us, the unpacking and unravelling of it in to the Art Rooms gallery was a wonderful experience. The various intimate passages and spaces that make up Art Rooms allowed us to extend our studio conversations in to a series chapters, much like a book – paying homage to the paper upon which we work and write. The unframed and raw nature of the work assisted in continuing to reveal the vulnerability of process and practice that one experiences in art making, we feel fortunate that we could complete much of the work on site and in direct response to the architecture of the space, this is all thanks to a giving and capable gallery team and director as well as an outstanding curator of course.
You produce works in different disciplines. I wonder, what are the determining factors in which discipline you will produce work? In some ways everything is material waiting to be intervened with, how we become in-spired or reach new ideas often feels like a mystery. Often the solution for a work starts to reveal itself when the hands, eyes and body are working and when the mind is more occu-pied with that action than with making meaning. The meaning comes afterwards, upon reflection and it is usually surprising even to us how it relates to the work that has come before it. In the act of making there isn’t a conscious or discernible intension to say some-thing specific, the focus is usually on the consistency of the ink, the surface of the paper, the tackiness of the glue. Of course when we step back and look, our ‘other’ brain takes over and assessment begins, but even then, it’s usually about form, balance, colour. What is important though is that we know the materials we work with, be they more traditional like ink and paper or less so like found bone or digital media, all hold their own interpretations and memories. It is through gentle and continuous negotiation with the material that art-works and then meaning is born, and over time you start to see that all your artwork are relatives of one another, whatever their medium or whichever action you employed to make them.
What can you say about the effects of living together and working collaboratively on your art production? We live in a home where we watch each other work, we share materials and communicate in different ways, we know it is a great privilege. It is not just the two of us, our ten year old daughter, Layla, is also immersed in the process. The three of us share a creative stream which generally has at least one of us making and thinking at all times, we all feed off that. Extending this lived experience into a gallery exhibition has resulted in a journey we are moved by, it is like standing outside of ones mind and having an entirely new per-spective on ones thoughts.
I worked with Başak Şenova at Art Rooms and on different projects. Working with her has always been a very productive and high-energy experience. What would you like to say about working with your curator/Başak Şenova? Başak is a force to be reckoned with, her generative and invigorating approach gives life and unimagined possibilities to her projects. On top of that she is an exceptional designer, her understanding of aesthetics, space and the ways in which people read exhibitions is superb. What we feel is particularly unique about Başak’s curatorial approach is her faith in the artistic process, she engages the artist rigorously but trusts us implicitly – this is not an easy balance to achieve but its combination allows for abundance.
https://www.artspace.com/magazine/a rt_101/book_report/using-the-body-aga inst-the-body-politicmona-hatoum-on-les sons-in-art-as-resistance-54354 https://www.bbc.com/turkce/articles/c p4zx2dxwk1o https://www.gazeteduvar.com.tr/fulya- cetin-bir-dakikalik-sifalanma-anini-iki-y ila-yaydim-haber-1550023 Woolf, Virginia, Kendine Ait Bir Oda, 6.45, İstanbul, 2019, s. 57.