Nevin Aladag

Gitte Weise Gallery

In her videos and photographs, Nevin Aladag works in a poetic documentary style where nothing is “told” but a great deal is “shown.” This clearly defined artistic concept matches its subject matter: Aladag, born in 1972 in Van in eastern Turkey and now living in Berlin, often focuses on foreignness and self-determination as they are experienced by young people of Turkish origin in Germany today. Demarcation and amalgamation, the search for cultural roots and social connection: Aladag is trying to create individual meaning within the larger context of the production of identity. She is interested in role models and also in the potential for divergence that emerges from the experience of migration. Aladag, who studied in Munich in the late ’90s with Olaf Metzel, came to Germany with her parents at the age of one; her family hoped to improve their lives and to benefit from a more tolerant society. This is why Aladag’s issue is not “the clash of cultures” but rather the fissures that lie between cultures and the connections that grow out of difference.

This is the theme of her video Voice Over, 2006. It begins with a car journey; an anonymous hand is holding a harmonica out the car window. The wind rushing by makes the instrument play. Then, in a night shot reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project, in the darkness beyond the camera we see a young Turkish-German man singing old folk songs. These scenes are contrasted with alternating sequences of close-ups of drums and cymbals left out in the rain. Sometimes, as the raindrops hit the drums, the sound of the rain turns into drumbeats; sometimes a buzzing sound is created from the heavy rainfall.

For Aladag, the analogy between the sound of the rain and the vocal melody is an important metaphor for the process of acculturation. Nature makes the drum resonate; but the wistful song of the young man is a memory of a long-forgotten homeland; it is a reflection of a “second nature.” The fervor of the singing matches the longing of the lyrics: “I beseech you, my little gazelle / Don’t go to the cloudy mountains of Urfa.” This folk song describes a way of life that is completely alien to the Berlin of today; even so, it is made contemporary by the young man repeating it.

The title Voice Over seems to refer to a device used in her film to display the contradiction between image and sound. In Aladag’s work, the relationship between memory and daily life is faulty. We see rough shots, the blurred face of the singer, and yet what’s being evoked is an idyllic past. Young men such as this one, who have grown up with rap and R&B, are well aware that they are playing a role when they perform their lament for the camera. Voice Over is not a narrative about authenticity or a celebration of hybridization; it is simply a document that uses poetic images to show how new identities are created within changing social and cultural environments. Aladag is interested in this meeting, whether of drums and rain, harmonica and wind, or Berlin hip-hop and Kurdish love songs.

Harald Fricke

Translated from German by Jane Brodie.