The first solo exhibition in Turkey of Moroccan artist Soufiane Ababri. « Memories of a solitary cruise » at “The Pill” offers an immersive journey into fantasy, western representations, and projections by sensitively avoiding counter-stereotyping.
The set-up of the exhibition invites to a kind of shielded Boudoir. The audience has to cross through a thick double-layered brown curtain to enter the exhibition space. “Bedworks” is a title artist Soufiane Ababri invented for his small scaled colorful paintings. Çüneyt Çakırlar, lecturer for film and media studies at Nottingham Trent Universities School of Art and Humanities, underlines: “Ababri swerves from a professionalized and disembodied space of art production to a personal, sexual intimate and affective territory. The bed becomes the studio”.
The artist is tired of underlying racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic biases in average societies conscience and in the mainly social pedagogic oriented discourse of political correctness. The value of the esthetics of the memories of a solitary cruise is the mixture of banal daily erotic scenes, satirical quotations of classical idealizing sculpturing features and casual formulated but touching written reflections on home- and homelessness. The Video-scene of the artist in a kitchen brewing coffee has a refreshing anti-exhibitionist touch.
The 15th Istanbul Art Biennial in 2017, curated by the artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset and entitled “a good neighbor”, had given space to several positions by artist working on queer themes. One of the most impressive positions was Mahmoud Khaled’s Proposal for a House Museum of an Unknown Crying Man (2017). Conceived as a fictional museum, the audience entered a house in the lively neighborhood of Cihangir with an audio guide and discovered that the absent inhabitant of the house was an Egyptian man who moved from Cairo to Istanbul a decade ago. A narrative of queer persecution in Egypt and later in Istanbul is told through this unknown man’s belongings.
Soufiane Ababri’s show at The Pill is a valuable continuation of the topic and the metaphor of cruises as an internal journey with a political context. The exhibition-text contextualizes: “The exhibition’s starting point is a public policy polling survey made in the United States in 2015 which found that 30% of Republicans and 19% of Democrats said they support ‘bombing Agrabah’ – the fictional nation of Disney’s Aladdin – the pool emphasis a whopping 41% of Donald Trump voters favor bombing Agrabah adding to the evidence indicating that his support is disproportionately drawn from the least knowledgeable parts of the electorate.
This tragi-comic news suddenly reveals the strength of collective belief mechanisms and in this case raises the question of how exoticism influences the way the ‘exotic subject’ is perceived and how he is determined as other. Soufiane Ababri uses parodic tools to deconstruct the multiple layered constructions of what exoticism should be in the eyes of a Western viewer”. This effect isn’t to limit on the Western Viewer. In an age of global manipulation and stupefaction this news would have worked in a lot of places.
The current show is extremely recommendable and consolidates the importance of the visionary Gallery in Istanbul’s upcoming district Balat. The Pill had hosted the show “Animal Farm” by Turkish artist Ferhat Özgür during the time of the 15th Istanbul Biennial. It was brilliantly creating connections to the Dystopian novels of George Orwell and the current stage of politics in Turkey. Showing Soufiane Ababri position now is a fine elaboration of a very central topic in the current political atmosphere, where queer topics are banned from most public spaces.
The Tangier-born artist has been living in France for the past 16 years since studying at the National School of Decorative Arts and completing a master’s at Lyon’s School of Fine Arts. “My drawings tell the stories of the communities in which I belong. I am a homosexual North African immigrant who is part of a small middle class in a postcolonial generation. My experiences are central to my drawings and I hope they can highlight some of society’s stigmas,” Soufiane told the London based “It’s nice that-Platform last June.
Soufiane Ababri, Memories of a Solitary Cruise. 10.01.-23.02.2019. The Pill, Müselpaşa Cad. No.181, 34087 Balat- Istanbul