Pardon My Appearance: 

An Interview with Turkish Artist Sinan Tuncay

words R.R.

photography Tarek Moukaddem

Could you introduce yourself the way you would to a curator?

I was expecting something more in the line of: "Tell us more about your field.." So, I'm an artist from Istanbul, Turkey currently based in New York. I mostly work with representations of gender and masculinity within the Turkish cultural landscape. I'm highly affected but Ottoman miniscule painting - which was the main visual art tradition under Ottoman rule for centuries because other mediums were not allowed. So I try to use that traditional aesthetic in order to create a contemporary approach to representations of gender.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently working on a new series in which I am trying to go more towards 3D imagery and sculptural forms, basically as a way to break away from the flatness of photographic prints. I'm trying to morph my collages into 3D sculptural forms.

How do you skip from one medium to another? Is it a visceral or more rational decision?

When I first started to do this, I felt like I had to choose between photography and video but was never able to make a decision. I feel like sometimes still imagery works better than moving images, and they have different aesthetics related to the story I am trying to tell -- which is why I still work around both. But when I work on either, I conceive of each similarly because in both cases I focus on a single motion, and my videos are on loop, repeating themselves.

So you've pulled on various traditional art forms, such as miniature painting and Turkish melodramas. When you revisit these art forms, are you usually more on the side of celebration or critique?

I think I try to do both, because I am really into celebrations and rituals that affect me a lot. But of course they have very problematic aspects to them like wedding rituals or male circumcision, even in  melodramas.

Maybe tell us more about how you dealt with the critique of male circumcision in your work?

Visually, the project I did was about the overall celebration of male circumcision. I had mine when I was 8 years old - it was like a wedding ceremony! It happened on stage, and family and friends were watching. So the memory is still vivid in my mind, and I was questioning everything and wondering why everyone felt the need to watch it. Everyone was dancing as I forced to to lie down on a bed. To them, it was an opportunity to celebrate, but it was mostly a trauma-inducing event for me. So I somehow tried to recreate those scenes of celebrations by divorcing my body from the people around me. I was trying to describe my psychological state, and the feeling of extreme loneliness that had besieging me.

We've also mentioned the turkish melodramas. What attracts you to them apart from the elements of kitsch? Is there an underlying critique to this reproduction? And what do you have to say about depictions of women as hysterical or in a fetishizing way, which are common in said melodramas?

When I was a kid in the 90's, these melodramas were constantly broadcast after school. And since both my parents would be at work, I'd spend a lot of time alone at home. Watching these melodramas led me to create the 'ideal' woman. Somehow, I'd feel that the women from these melodramas had raised me, since I'd spend the whole day by their side. It's only a while later that I realized they are stereotypes created by men, mostly, and even by our patriarchal government. So I was trying to go back and retrace why men want women like that: constantly waiting for them and their attention.

There's a lot of women in your work, but you're not very comfortable showcasing masculinity.

Recently, I started to. I began working around and with women through fashion shoots. But then I realized that there was something missing, which I instantly problematized. So, yeah, recently I started going over explorations and depictions of masculinity, which I wasn't comfortable with in the past.

How are you exploring it now?

I'm especially focusing on male bodies, because the female body tends to always be fetishized and objectified in our collective cultures. Now, I want to do the same thing to the male body.

So you want to fetishize it?

Kind of, yes. Because I do inherently fetishize it. And I tried to explore my own desire, like how I approach the male body and why I fetishize it. Since Turkish culture is very male dominated, I try to explore the codes that constitute its visual language: What makes male bodies so powerful or active, you know?

So based on the projects you've done, some have exhibited in museums and some have been in more accessible media, such as pop music videos. What is your relationship to the traditional dichotomy split between the two and how do you navigate both?

Honestly, I equally like both pop and contemporary art and enjoy engaging in both.They feed off one another, one simply can't deny that. When you produce a music video, it can be seen by, let's say, more than 25 million viewers! I like that about pop. But also when I conceive my own art projects, i still use pop elements, but in a different way, maybe a more personal one. I think they satisfy me in different ways, one of them is more accessible and easily consumed, while the other is more long-term and examines more complex thematics that withstands market trends.

So now you're based in diaspora, living in New York. You're not exactly located physically in the context that most inspires your work, i.e. Turkey.  How does that affect how your work is produced and perceived?

When I had decided to go to New York to study, my main goal was to get out of my country so that I'm able to see it differently. I think New York helped me a lot because I was able to approach Turkey in a very different manner now. I engage with a different context now, one that is vastly more multicultural, so it does change your perspective on things you've taken for granted your whole life living in one specific place. I realized that Turkey's way of life is not the only one on offer, that there are other cultures and ways of living which have allowed  me to adopt a critical lens towards Turkey. When I go back to Turkey, i am exposed again to the culture and the life that I've left behind, and I like that dynamic.

You were saying that you feel like the way western audience receive your way is much different from the way turkish audience receives it, especially in relation to traditional forms.

I realized that especially in Lebanon, which is connected to Turkey by default. My work can be approached from an insider's perspective, I don't need to explain it to you a lot because you somehow get it. But in the US and Europe, they see it as more "exotic".  They really don't know what I'm talking about and I need to guide them through my whole process, which can be good because they come in with a more curious approach,  they are not familiar with Islamic art. But here or in my country people know what I'm talking about and it's different.