Independently Blue: Gamze Taşdan’s Widow Exercises

“widow leg in the pot”

Born in 1986, Istanbul, Gamze Taşdan graduated from Yıldız Technical University, Faculty of Arts and Design, department of Combined Arts. Her paintings and installations refer to the states of womanhood and widowhood in Turkish cinema. While Taşdan reinterprets Yeşilçam’s[1] treatment of the woman and the widow, she demands that the audience question stereotypes he/she has in his/her mind about Turkish cinema and its protagonists.

“Widow Exercises” is the name of a series Taşdan started in February 2011 as her graduation project. Works in the series reference Şerif Gören’s 1985 movie The Frogs. In this movie, Elmas (Hülya Koçyiğit) starts earning her living growing rice and picking frogs from the river after her husband’s death. Men in the village harass her and rumors start to spread. In the meanwhile, Elmas falls in love with Ali who had desired her for a long time. Like the young girls in the village, she plants the pepper plants she grew in a pot next to the village fountain and hopes that Ali will eat them as a gesture showing the village his intention to marry her.

With the works displayed below, Taşdan focuses on the statements in the movie that the women in the village utter to exclude and humiliate Elmas as a widow. Statements  such as,  “A woman who lifts up her leg won’t put it down again! / bacağını kaldıran kadın bir daha indirmez!” or “widow flesh is sweet! / dul avrat eti tatlı olur!” functions within language (the symbolic order) similar to insults. As Agamben explains:

“An insult is effective precisely because it does not function as a constative utterance but rather as a proper noun; because it uses language in order to give a name in such a way that the named can not accept his name, and against which he cannot defend himself (as if someone were to insist on calling me Gastone knowing that my name is Giorgio). What is offensive in the insult is, in other words, a pure experience of language and not a reference to the world.”

—Agamben, The Friend, in What is an Apparatus?,  p.30

Based on this overly eroticized and morally devalued notion of the widow, women in the village, young and old, declare their superiority to Elmas. This is the point when Taşdan  initiates a visual play with language. In ” widow exercises,” she offers an escape from this linguistic trap by reconstructing the widow as a subject who enjoys her widowhood. Mocking the saying “A woman who lifts up her leg won’t put it down again!” Taşdan makes her widows exercise for fitness. She plants exercising widow legs in the pots like peppers waiting for a bite. An exception for Taşdan’s cheerful widows however is her depiction of  half widow-half milk-giving animal characters where the widow’s joy of independence leaves its place to blues and confusion.  The images from Tasdan’s visual diary displayed below demonstrates this dichotomy not only of the widow but probably all women who refuse to think and act according to the rules of the patriarchal order face now and then.

—Elif Gül Tirben

Gamze Taşdan lives and works in Istanbul. You can follow her works here

Elif Gül Tirben studied International Relations in Middle East Technical University, Ankara. She continued her masters in Sociology in the same university with a focus on Urban Sociology. Later, she had a masters degree in Visual Arts from Sabancı University, Istanbul, where she worked as a Teaching Assistant for two years. Her interests are Social Theory and Sociology of Visual Arts. Elif is a free lance writer based in Istanbul. You can follow her visual diary here.

[1] Turkish Hollywood

“ribbon II”

“half virgin II”