Ferhat Ayne: When Immigration Becomes Form

fotoğraf (1)

Bu yazın benim için en önemli etkinliği Salzburg Güzel Sanatlar Yaz Akademisi’ydi. Akademide iki sene Frieze gibi seçkin bir derginin editörlüğünü yapmış, Jennifer Allen’ın Art of Writing and Theory dersine katıldım. Jennifer Allen’dan sadece yazım hakkında değil, aynı zamanda bir yazar olarak var olabilme yolunda çok önemli tüyolar aldık. Bize verdiği en zor iş, akademide yer alan öğrencilerden biri hakkında sunuş yazmak oldu.  Bir öğleden sonrayı akademiyi dolaşıp, oradaki sanatçıların işlerini inceleyerek geçirdik. Ben şanslıydım ki Tobias Zielony’nin Immigration dersinde bir Türk sanatçıyla tanıştım. Ayne’nin fotoğrafları özellikle ilgimi çekti. Çünkü o göçmenlik konusunu sadece bir sorun olarak görüp insanlara odaklanmak yerine, onların yanlarında getirdikleri kültüre odaklanmıştı. 

Some people are born with a liability. If you are Turkish, then you have to carry a big necklace that shows your identity other than being Turkish. Ferhat Ayne is one of these people. He is the child of an immigrant family. Ayne’s father is one of the first generation  of workers who arrived in Western Europe. Although Ayne’s father arrived in Europe in 1969, other members of the Ayne family had to wait until 1986 to join him. It was something very common for first generation immigrant families. Ayne is also one of the few people who found his own way. He graduated from the Hochschule für Gestaltung Schwäbisch Gmünd in the field of Production Design in 2006. After his graduation, he worked as a graphic designer in Hamburg for two years. During his studies, he started to take pictures, and in 2013, he decided to study in the BA Photography Program at the Stuttgart Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste. Here at the Salzburg Summer Academy, he is attending Tobias Zielony’s Migration course.

All my writing teachers repeats the same simple sentence: ‘Write something you know best’ I don’t know if it’s true or not, but Ayne does the exact same thing. He takes pictures of what he knows best: the Turkish community in Austria… Ayne works almost like a documentary photographer. He follows the Turkish community everywhere. It’s interesting though that he takes pictures of them only in public space even though he mentions how the lifestyle of these families changes from inside and to outside, from the home to the street. Ayne portrays the Turkish community almost like the Russian documentary filmmaker Dziga Vertov portrayed everyday people in the 1920s. One could easily argue that Ayne almost follows the Vertovian tradition. The artist photographs  them at car washes, markets, soccer fields, airports and mosques. He focuses not only on how the Turkish community functions in Austria but also on how the long interaction with Austria has had an impact on self-perception. As an artist, Ayne finds the markets as the most crucial aspect of this community. He states: ‘When someone decides to go to market, she or he doesn’t simply say ‘market’ but refers to the market as ‘Turk,’ so I think the market is the representation of Turkish identity in their minds.’ Who would think to photograph eggplants and lemons at a market? Luckily enough, Ayne photographs them in a greater context because he knows the function of newspapers in the Turkish market. Mostly old newspapers are used for covering up the boxes, but the real significance lies in the stories and images on the newspapers. In Turkey, too, the market merchants often use newspapers for their grocery stands. It seems like the Turkish community is carrying on this tradition. Ayne thinks that this use of newspapers – here in Austria and in Turkey – is a really good way to understand this identity crisis. He shows me pictures of red onions at a grocery stand – and there we go, there is a newspaper lying under the onions, but it’s of course a Austrian newspaper. I don’t understand German, but he translates for me… The headline goes like this: ‘Insects havae invaded farms like immigrants do.’ Mass media is a prominent way to create public opinion. Immigrants have always been oppresed by this kind of media usage. As the Dutch discourse theorist Teun Van Dijk has noted, the immigrant’s access to media is very limited. As Van Dijk suggests, this limitation can exclude immigrants from systems of power which define them, mostly in a negative way.

‘Power abuse not only involves the abuse of force, for example in police aggression against black youths, and may result not merely in limiting the freedom of action of a specific group, but also and more crucially may affect the minds of people. That is, through special access to, and control over the mean of public discourse and communication, dominant groups or institutions may influence the structures of text and talk in such a way that, as a result, the knowledge, attitudes, norms, values and ideologies of recipients are – more or less indirectly affected in the interest of the dominant group’[1]

At some point, it may become harder for immigrants to establish themselves as Turks according to their own definitions, not the definitions of groups that dominate the countries where they have made their new home. There’s a generational shift in one of Ayne’s most interesting pictures which shows simply a pickle jar. “There are some products that are produced and sent to Turkey,” he says. “The labels on them were in Turkish in the past, but today there are mostly in German.’’

Ayne’s pictures have a tranquillity at their core. He doesn’t show how poorly this little community is doing; on the contrary, he chooses to focus on how the new generation has become harmonisized with the larger community of Austrians. At the end, Ayne’s pictures are not really about the Turkish community but concern the dominant group’s gaze. It would be helpful to remember Matisse’s painting Moroccan Café (1913).  Matisse completed this work after his travels to North Africa. One could easily argue that it’s about low-cultured, lazy Arabs, but, for me, it’s really about the European gaze. The European tradition of Oriental painting was very popular both during and long before Matisse’s lifetime. The 19th-century public enjoyed looking at harems, belly dancers and people with funny hats. I believe the most important part of this Matisse painting is the fish in the jar, by which the painter addresses the question of being. Matisse surely knew to whom he was going to show this painting: the European bourgeois… An ordinary viewer might read this painting as Orientalism, but the inner frame and the usage of color both point out the possibility of not realizing the jar that we live in: our jar. Perhaps when the Western gaze wanders onto the Eastern world and their jars, the viewer might be missing the cage which he or she inhabits. Sure enough, the same scenario works for Eastern cultures as well. Images are all about what we don’t see rather than what we do see. Ayne doesn’t photograph the Turkish community in the Austrian community but rather pictures them in their own ghetto. We feel the existence of the Austrian community only in the tiny details in Ayne’s pictures, like the newspaper headlines, beer advertisements or some German words here and there. Austrian viewers function as the missing identity from outside of the frame, and the Turkish community functions as the so-called fish in the jar – a position that eventually leads to the superiority of the dominant group. Perhaps we are all fishes living in the our little jars and swimming around and around the same places and the same ideas. Who knows?

[1] Teun A . Van Dijk, “Discourse, power and access,” Society and Discourse. How social contexts control text and talk (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), p.2.

Mehmet Berkay Sulek


One thought on “Ferhat Ayne: When Immigration Becomes Form

  1. Cok güzel bir yorum..Tebrikler Ferhat Ayne’ye ve berkay93

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