Critics’ Picks

Aykan Safoğlu, Off-White Tulips, 2013, HD video, color, sound, 23 minutes 47 seconds.

Aykan Safoğlu, Off-White Tulips, 2013, HD video, color, sound, 23 minutes 47 seconds.


Aykan Safoğlu

Ystads konstmuseum
St Knuts Torg
December 3, 2016–February 5, 2017

“There won’t be a certain white-balance setting for this film,” a soft-spoken Aykan Safoğlu narrates in Turkish as the malfunctioning camera struggles to find focus in Off-White Tulips, 2013, a video essay that uses the years James Baldwin spent in Istanbul––the artist’s birthplace––in the 1960s to explore a range of identity-based political questions. The voice-over addresses Baldwin directly: “You felt more comfortable here as a black man. You felt less oppressed.” A small bouquet of off-white tulips is placed onto a brown surface along with tasteful shifting formations of photographs, patterns, and magazine clippings. The golden era of the Ottoman Empire was called the “Tulip Era,” while the Turkish phrase for “off-white” is also slang for gay or queer. These flowers thus index experiences of Turkish national identity: Safoğlu’s own sense of belonging as a gay man now living in Western Europe and how Baldwin’s relationship to his race and sexuality was changed by the Turkish context.

Through a host of characters, from Turkish child stars to the cast of Dallas (1978–91), and the friends Baldwin made among Istanbul’s literati, Safoğlu poses a series of complex questions about race, nationality, sexuality, and creativity. We learn from a sequence of photographs that the artist’s mother became increasingly blond throughout the 1970s––as Baldwin would say, “there are no untroubled countries.” The artist’s youthfulness, characterized by his impatience and indignation, sits as a rift on the surface of the film, a kind of punctum that marks it with an earnest fallibility. Refreshing in a time with so much irony, Safoğlu puts himself on the line as he forges thought-provoking relationships between personal and collective histories.