While Modernism’s basic opinions and allegations are questioned and torn down by its own believers and thinkers, and the world has moved on to other debates; in Turkey, this discussion is in a vicious circle.
Because Turkey has always been in a traumatic and forced relationship with Modernism, not an organic relationship of its own. One can see the reflections of this in art, as well as many other areas.
In the West, sexism and racism, reinvented by modernism, are radically debated while here, these aren’t questioned enough.
Even though there are artists such as Gülsün Karamustafa who question Turkey’s “progress” and “alteration” process with courage, there is also a dominant discourse that questions the patriarchal system and leaves it at that, instead of discussing sexism in the light of modernist criticism.
The anti-sexism and anti-racism sayings of Guerilla Girls, an art movement that has global reflections is very important in this matter. The Guerilla Girls team, formed as an anonymous movement in 1985, came together as a reaction when Museum of Modern Arts in New York had an exhibition called “An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture” and of the 169 participants, only 13 were women. Since then, they continue to draw attention to the discrimination in the art industry by their posters, stickers, events and protests.
The male-dominant mentality of conventional societies has evolved with modernism and capitalism and continues its existence. It was shown as if modernization process gave women a world of equality, whereas this new system let the discrimination of sex and race go even further and deeper with a big illusion.
Expressions like women’s rights, freedom and equality actually had the idea of creating a homogenous society. And the “modern individual” identified for this homogenous society was the male, viewed as the major man.
The question on the poster designed by Guerilla Girls, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?” is quite rightly addressed to the modern system. While in the conventional societies the female body has always been viewed as a danger and hidden; in the modern times, we see it fictionalized to fit the modern aesthetics and the only thing that defines women. Actually both of them are at the same page, regarding the way they see women as just a body. And with the visual bombardment and publicity, this new system had the chance of imposing its ideology upon us stronger than ever before.
In the Oscars poster designed by Guerilla Girls, even the statue given as an award is questioned because of it symbolizes the modern individual: white, male and fit – according to the imposed aesthetical understanding. The team members hide their identities by the gorilla masks they put on, and make fun of the beauty understanding of the dominant discourse.
As modernism interferes with the female body, criticizing tradition by oneself loses its meaning. That is the biggest message the Guerilla Girls have for the world. Women, who has to hide constantly in the conventional world, has to be constantly naked this time around.
Their posters with simple and striking sentences present the substantial circumstances quite clearly. There still is no equality for women and people of color, and the first step of struggle is to remove the illusions and talk about the reality as it is. In Turkey, to manage this, first we must question the system we are in; because discrimination is not only in traditions, it is on the billboard we see on the roads we walk on. On the channels we watch, the magazines we read, everywhere!
Gülsüm Kavuncu Eryılmaz