Artist Profile – belit sağ

Published on 2018-09-14

Artwork featured in the salon – '(Against) Randomness' (2017) Single-channel video with audio, Edition of 5. Image courtesy of the artist

belit sağ is a Turkish artist living in Amsterdam, an expat whose work in visual art and video explores representation, visibility, and violence in media. She studied mathematics in Ankara and audiovisual arts in Amsterdam, and became involved in video through Turkish video-activist groups. She cofounded bak.ma, a digital archive of political and social movements in Turkey, and has been a resident artist at Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam and the International Studio and Curatorial Program in New York. She’s presented her work in MOCA, Taipei; documenta14, Kassel; Flaherty Film Center, New York City; Tabakalera Film Seminar, San Sebastian; EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam; and the Toronto, Rotterdam, San Francisco, and New York International Film Festivals 

sağ has not lived in her home country for more than 10 years (though she nevertheless managed to have her work censored by a government-aligned art institution in Istanbul from 2015 to 2016). Familiar with the tensions that go with being an immigrant, she’s produced several pieces that focus on the experiences of fellow foreigners, particularly Turks living in Germany. 

Following World War II, West Germany had such significant labour shortages that the government initiated a formal program to recruit migrant workers—”Gastarbeiter”—from Turkey. 3 million immigrants live there now, but even after decades of cohabitation, they’re often considered unwelcome guests. Angela Merkel has urged them to better assimilate and, between 2000 and 2008, the National Socialist Underground (NSU), a Neo-Nazi group, killed at least 10 people—mostly of Turkish or Kurdish origin—and planted 2 nail bombs in migrant neighborhoods across Germany. 

In cut-out and overexposed, sağ looks at how the cases were covered, from hierarchies of visibility in media to sexist and racist language used in courtrooms to the white erasure of minority lives, experiences, documents, and memories. she’s interested in how these traumatic incidents ruptured victims’ lives, “suspended and fragmented by the attacks, and even further violated by their representation in the media,” she writes over email. 

“This fragmentation creates a sense of randomness, as if there is no logical explanation of the lives. It makes it extremely difficult for the victimized communities to make sense of what happened, or why it happened to them. Their agency to narrate their own story—their own life—is taken away from them.”

(Against) Randomness follows the thinking from sağ’s earlier works, but also offers hope for grassroots remediation through collective storytelling. The video begins with the phrase “Storytelling is a resistance against…” immediately followed by “...the perception that life is a series of random events.” They float over the screen as atomized statements, broken apart and robbed of meaning unless read as a unit. For it to make any sense, the viewer must remember what preceded the current screen. The piece goes on to display words—“randomness,” “past tense,” “pictures,”— that stick to images as narrative text about witness and memory passes through. “I DIDN’T SEE,” “I DON’T REMEMBER,” “I FORGOT” transform into “WE ALL SAW,” “WE ALL REMEMBER,” “WE WILL NEVER FORGET.” There’s a power in collectively seeing and remembering. Without it, the video argues, neither a past nor a future is possible.

Artist profile by Katheryn Thayer for The Current.

'(Against) Randomness' is featured in 'The Current // Truth' curated by Tina Rivers Ryan from September 6 – 14th, 2018. Write to hi@current.mu for a visit, or become a member of The Current to attend our private salons:http://current.mu/salon