Nilbar Güres, Die Schublade (The Drawer), 2019, mixed media on fabric, 70 7⁄8 × 55 1⁄8".

Nilbar Güres, Die Schublade (The Drawer), 2019, mixed media on fabric, 70 7⁄8 × 55 1⁄8".

Nilbar Güres

Both the possibilities and the constraints of gender and sexuality underlie Nilbar Güreş’s practice. Born in Istanbul in 1977, Güreş was a connoisseur and collector of textiles from an early age and studied the teaching of art, design, and textiles at the University of Applied Arts Vienna. For her installations, videos, and fabric sculptures, she engages with artisans, celebrates local crafts, and depicts conflicted, fluid, transitioning bodies that bend to fulfill their desires and, in doing so, become works of art. Menstrual blood, gender-reassigned sex organs, and human totems populate her works; her subjects practice castration and fisting, experience sex’s pains and pleasures, and act out rituals reflecting Turkey’s hybrid cultural identity.

Güreş’s recent exhibition “Magnet and the Moon,” comprising works from the past half-decade, stitched together this intellectual patchwork while intentionally leaving some of the seams exposed. The eponymous 2019 wall installation, made from sections of fabric, depicts a horseshoe-shaped figure covered by a black cloth and affected, according to the curator, Kevser Güler, by the moon’s gravitational pull; the image represents the tension between concealment and surrender. Another fabric construction, Webcam Sex Ghost, 2019, depicts an ambiguously gendered nude reclining on an ottoman and revealing their body to a laptop camera. To the bottom of the faux-leather black ground, Güreş has stitched a peacock-patterned quilt. Dark figures representing the internet audience fill the scene, while a prayer rug just behind the webcammer recalls realities beyond curated digital frames. The quilt, meanwhile, creates a sensual intimacy. Die Schublade (The Drawer), 2019, another mixed-media assemblage featuring a quilt, depicts a bed-wetting child and its alarmed mother watching as urine spreads in rainbow colors. In these traumatic scenes of childhood recollection, cloth oppresses and protects in equal measure. Fabric also plays public roles: The installation TORN, 2018, asked viewers to consider the plight of Didem Görkem Geçit, a trans sex worker the artist met during a pride march in Istanbul. The black-and-white photographic portrait shows a scar on Geçit’s neck: Two men had kidnapped and stabbed her and subsequently walked free. (Turkey has the highest rate of transgender murders in Europe.) An accompanying video shows Geçit in front of an altar-like ruin, staring into the camera with a piercing look, eventually leaving the frame to reveal a torn cloth fluttering behind her on a clothesline.

The fabric sculpture Underneath, 2019, is made of two pillows, one pink and the other green, locked together like puzzle pieces. These nonbinary pillows carry signs of both genders and illustrate a Turkish idiom about marriage—“May they grow old with one pillow”—while subtly interrogating the sexual expectations of wedlock.

In some cases, Güreş’s photographs mix staged and documentary elements. The Eye, 2018, is a large-format analog photograph produced during one of the artist’s visits to a support center for refugees in Plymouth, England, where she had a residency in 2018. It portrays Adama, an African immigrant whose request to take both of her children with her to England has been refused by the British government; she is reduced to pondering her prospects in Brexit Britain. In Güreş’s image, an African fabric and a rose cover the head—an allegory of migratory disillusionment. In Coconut Cutters, 2018, produced during the same residency, a different woman has climbed a palm tree and is sawing at two large, testicular bags of coconuts. A second woman, waiting for the coconuts to fall, observes that act of castration. In her stylized representations of gender politics, Güreş proposes a reckoning with the patriarchal straitjacket placed on our capacity for desire and joy.