What good is art if it satisfies only the imaginaries of artists?

At the Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul

As promised on 14 November, I will start pulling together my thoughts on the recent visit to Istanbul. I have had some quite traumatic things happen after my return (as well as another surgical procedure on my right hand and wrist for carpal tunnel-related issues), but the following was a first take, published by the Daily Maverick on 22 November 2019. Below is an extract…

Art gallery and art spaces as beachhead for gentrification

The Arter Gallery reminded me of the gentrification of neighbourhoods where unemployment, poverty, alienation are rife, and where (in the case of Dolapdere, where the gallery is located) the gleaming gallery stands, egotistically separate. I should not traduce the creativity that is on exhibit at the Arter Gallery, but I can also not see it in isolation from Dolapdere, and the forced gentrification of poor neighbourhoods; the way that a section of District Six has now become Zonnebloem, home to art galleries, artisanal coffee shops, and nude foods.

The location of the Arter Gallery is in a neighbourhood of Istanbul that is home to poverty, alienation, of Kurdish and African refugees and is especially distressing. I am sure than none of the homeless people who want to sit down and have a cappuccino at a trendy Zonnebloem café (if she has the money) would be welcome. And so, the Arter encourages the local community to visit the gallery at low cost or even for free. But step outside the back door (outside the coffee shop) and onto the black flooring of the back court of the Arter Gallery – and see how it stretches, in some places for no more than 10 metres, in clean lines, neat angles to a low wall, beyond which children play amid impoverished surroundings and dilapidated buildings. (Read the full article, here)

Between the Silences of Images

Late night in Fatih – Sultanahmet. By Ismail Lagardien (Copyright)

I recently spent about a week in Istanbul. Most of my time was spent visiting installations of the Istanbul Biennale, and two or three other places and art galleries. My favourite gallery, the Istanbul Modern, is being rebuilt, and temporarily housed elsewhere, in Beyoğlu. I am on some deadlines, and in the middle of an especially tough period, but once I emerge, I will collate my thoughts and present them in an essay, with photographs. I will focus, in particular, on some of the ways that art spaces have been inserted into working class areas, and have been part of gentrification – which places inordinate pressure on the poor, refugees, and immigrants. Please check back or sign up for updates. That way you will be notified when the essay is posted.

Kind van die wind (Child of the Wind)

With diplomats from Malaysia’s department of foreign affairs during their visit to Cape Town.

Met 24 September om die draai wonder ISMAIL LAGARDIEN oor watter erfenis hy en ander Maleier-nasate in Suid-Afrika moet vier. Dis asof daar net nooit ’n boksie is wat hy kan afmerk nie. Waar ‘belong’ die Maleiers nou eintlik?

OP 24 September trek Suid-Afrikaners laer om “erfenis” en indrukke van wat hulle as hul etniese identiteit beskou. Erfenisdag is ’n post-apartheid-sameflansing met ’n ietsie vir almal, and then some. “Nog boerewors vir tannie?” Die hemel help ons, maar dis hoe dit is.

Dus: Joodse mense besoek hul Joodse vriende en familie. Die Xhosas, Zoeloes of Bapedi gaan “huis toe” – die versamelnaam vir hul plekke van familieherkoms, van Cofimvaba in die Oos-Kaap na Moutse in Limpopo. Afrikaners, natuurlik, is alomplesierig en hou jolyt net waar hulle is.

Maar wat van die bruin mense? Waar pas die bruines in? (Ek raak hiermee plegtig van “sogenaamde” ontslae, want daar’s nog baie om te lees en skryf).

Ons is diegene wat eens beskryf is as die “leftovers” – die resultaat van wit mans wat swart vroue verkrag het in die jare van vroeë Europese nedersetting aan die Kaap. Wat is die erfenis wat óns vier? (Read Further/Lees Verder)

Backstories of a Picture: Morning in an Istanbul Bar

5 January 2017. I recently read a story on the power of a single photograph, published by Time Magazine. The Time story was inspired by an exhibition, One Image, described as a pièce de résistance, featuring just one photograph, a seemingly inconsequential, blurred image of a young girl sat on a deck chair. It recounts how, with the ubiquity of cellphone cameras, we are swamped, daily, by hundreds of images. The writer presents the one image, this particular case, as an experiment to force us to look at one image, and push us to look more closely at the back story of the picture. One Image was part of a larger exhibition, Podróż do nieśmiertelności fotografii: Photography Never Dies (The Journey to Immortality: Photography Never Dies) held at the Main Railway Station in Wroclaw, Poland.

The story drew my attention to the very many pictures I have made over the years, and especially, to the ‘back story’ of each picture or set of pictures. It also reminded me of the way that I have drifted away from photography, the act of making pictures, towards the philosophy and sociology of photography. I want to share, then, short stories on some of the pictures I have made in places around the world, as a way to give greater meaning to what I originally considered to be the time and spaces between photographs.

Notwithstanding the catchy idiom that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ (Read a piece on this meme, here) there are times when a caption, or a short story on the context of a photograph tells us more than what is depicted in the image. Sometimes, as with the photograph, below, it simply tells a story. This, then, is the first in a series of short takes on the back stories of pictures, and short takes on photographs.

Morning in an Istanbul Bar

I was sat deep inside a bar in Istanbul drinking coffee. The entire front of the bar was open to the street. A tram line ran along the front edge of the bar. It was a cold December morning. A man walked into the bar. He was bundled in a red parka. He sat down, ordered a beer and lit a cigarette. He took a sip of beer. A toke. A picture of Kemal Ataturk on the back wall of the bar flickered in pink fluorescent light. He took another sip. A toke. A tram sped by, barely two metres from the man. He did not flinch. Nobody flinched. There were three of us in the bar. The barman was arranging glasses on the counter. The man was lost in reverie. He took a sip. A toke. Kemal blinked in pink luminescence.