– Summer 2014

Visiting the Viewpoints of Others: On the Camouflaged Portraits of Nilbar Güres

Mihnea Mircan

Nilbar Güres ̨, Soyunma (Undressing), 2006, video, 6min 19sec, still. Photograph: Nicole Tintera. All images courtesy the artist; Rampa, Istanbul; and Galerie Martin Janda, Vienna

Kant does tell one how to take others into account; he does not tell one how to combine with them in order to act. — Hannah Arendt1

The video Soyunma (Undressing, 2006)
by Nilbar Güres ̧ is a knot of names and pleats, folds and invocations. A rumination on feminine identity in the artist’s native Turkey, the film engages its theme —and revolves around its protagonist —
in contradictory movements of revelation and obfuscation. The artist is filmed taking off veil after veil while enumerating,
in an imperious tone, the female members of her family. These contrasting actions warp around and co-produce the film’s elusive subject: an imbroglio of masks and characters, a mesh of textile props and affective obligations. The split-second nakedness of Güres ̧’s visage, appearing on screen just before the video ends, merges with its reversal:

  1. Hannah Arendt, Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy (ed. Ronald Beiner), Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992, p.72.

  2. See ‘Blood & Honey: The Future’s in the Balkans’, curated by Harald Szeemann, Essl Museum, Vienna, 16 May—28 September 2003; and ‘In the Gorges of the Balkans’, curated by René Block, Kunsthalle Friedericianum, Kassel, 30 August—23 November 2003.

  3. For Alexander Kiossev, the self-colonising condition is a form of self-effacement inflicted in the absence of a colonist. Kiossev’s cultural periphery is hypnotically absorbed by its own marginality insofar as it attempts to constitute its identity in relation to what it fundamentally lacks. We, Easterners seem to whisper to themselves in this account, are not others — not our own other, but also not this other’s other: just its lesser, damaged self. This is not an exit from modernity but rather the core engine of modernity in reverse gear: a modern, if gridlocked, act of self-definition, with a criterion of legitimacy that moves further and further away from the site of enunciation. A. Kiossev, ‘Notes on Self-Colonising Cultures’ (1995), in Bojana Pejić and David Elliott (ed.), After the Wall: Art and Culture in Post-Communist Europe (exh. cat.), Stockholm: Moderna Museet, 1999, p.115.

  4. In 2013, artist Linda Fregni Nagler presented a collection of such images as a series titled The Hidden Mother in the exhibition ‘The Encyclopaedic Palace’, curated by Massimiliano Gioni, at the 55th Venice Biennial. See L. Fregni Nagler, The Hidden Mother, London and Monaco: MACK and the Nouveau Musée de Monaco, 2013. A selection of these images can also be viewed at http://www.retronaut.com/2011/10/ the-invisible-mother-1800s/ (last accessed on 26 March 2014).

  5. Hanna Rose Shell, Hide and Seek: Camouflage, Photography, and the Media of Reconnaissance, New York: Zone Books, 2012, pp.13—14.

  6. See H. Arendt, Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy, op. cit., p.43.