Invited to take part in Desk Project at the project space 5533 during the Istanbul Biennale, I began my research for a proposed installation and performance piece about male identity as represented in male dolls in the U.S. Shopping only at the mega store Walmart, I was shocked to find all the figurines were about aggression: war, guns, bombs or military vehicles or Justin Bieber. I purchased the seductive Captain America doll that plays the words, let's take them down and a boy's t-shirt that echoed the toy's aggressive quality with the slogan,C rush, Destroy, Win as well as the Captain America mask and costume. In my opinion, the martial quality of these boys toys and clothing is a disturbing reminder of the U.S. global imperialism project, which has bankrupted our country and is fought most often by the poor who have no other alternatives but to enlist in the army to get a college education or to have a job. I find the irony of loving our children and wanting to keep them safe, juxtaposed with the toys we can buy for them that encourages aggression and war to be obviously incongruent.
In Istanbul I continued my research by exploring the neighborhood next to 5533 where wholesale inexpensive toys were being sold for distribution to toy stores all over Istanbul. To my surprise, I found no Turkish military toys, only ambulances and firemen, with the exception of a child like doll dressed in military uniform doing a belly dance to Turkish music. All the military toys sold in Istanbul, were printed in English and often with U.S. flags, which disturbingly further underscored how the United States is commercially packaged as an aggressor. Continuing with the project on site and using both U.S. and Turkish military images and toys, I transformed the 5533 store window into a Boys Room and performed as a little boy acting out his fantasy of being Captain America. Workers from the shops next to 5533, most of whom where very conservative Muslim women wear hijab, only responded to the Turkish images and toys used in the window decoration, ignoring the Captain American toys, but at the same time, showing pleasure that I had made a project against warfare and aggression that encircles the world at this time. One woman said, I understand this is about Iraq and shook her head.
is an independent, nonprofit contemporary art space in Istanbul founded by in 2008, by artists Nancy Atakan and Volkan Aslan that presents and produces exhibitions, research, and debates. This is an off-space, located in an textile market in the city that features a range of womens coats and hijabs for the conservative Muslim community the is present in the city. It is not a space in the trendy, western cosmopolitan downtown of Istanbul, and that make the engagement with the community that much more rich. Most tourists will never engage this community; it is easy for Turkish people to completely avoid them as well. As a result, 5533 has been emerged as an international interactive space that emphasizes dialogue, community engagement and a real relationship in your relational aesthetics. Recognized as a leader in this type of work by the New Museum in New York City it is currently featured as a site for contemporary performative, community-based work.