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Flapping our wings under the same sky: Kutluğ Ataman’s Sılsel

Posted at 17:00 May 21, 2012 in Arts & Culture

I’m standing in front of a table full of colored pens, markers, sewing needles and threads. Out of a pile of cloths, I’ve picked a white one with yellow flowers on it. “What kind of future do I envision for myself, for my country?” is the question I need to answer and a dark marker is my weapon of choice. I try to think of positive, happy, sunny things; you know, to be in line with the “the Secret” mantra which suggests it’s far better to be for peace instead of being against war, for instance. It just doesn’t work. A couple of minutes later, I find myself writing in block letters how I abhor violence against women; how I want discrimination against everything that’s different to stop; how I want to be able to trust the justice system… You get the idea.

What I’m contributing to with my un-shiny, un-happy thoughts is Kutluğ Ataman’s Sılsel, an on-going project in Galata Rum İlkokulu as part of the Istanbul Theatre Festival. Sılsel is thought to mean wing flapping in Aramaic, and is also the name of turquoise ceiling decorations painted by Assyrians. In creating this project, Ataman has been inspired by local stories he’s been told during his time in Mardin, a Southeastern city in Turkey with considerable Assyrian population. Members of the Assyrian minority who were scared of going outside due to discriminatory pressures used to paint these decorations as a way of expressing and soothing their yearning for the blue sky.

A vacant two-storey Greek grade school in Galata with beautiful white marble stairs hosts the project. A reel system has been built in the spacious multi-purpose room in the middle of the school. You write/ draw/ embroider your wish on a piece of cloth measuring 45 cm on one side, and then sew it on the existing cloths, creating one long letter.

Kutluğ Ataman is a Turkish director known for his films such as Lola ve Bilidikid (1998) and İki Genç Kız (2005) which deal with pressure and prejudice against differences of race and sexual identity. With this project, he aims to put together a common agreement, a document of civil history, a collection of letters to the future which will tell people what mattered to us the most, perhaps a hundred years from now. He aims to delineate an all-encompassing sky under which we can all live freely.

After I sew my own letter on, I walk around beneath Sılsel, to see what others before me have done. Letters include peace slogans, messages celebrating Galatasaray’s victory, aphorisms about how life is meaningless and that maybe drinking more is the answer. People from out of town have been sending letters, too, I learn, such as a collective work from a grade school in İzmir, in which each student has written what they want to be when they grow up. (I want to be a pretty ballerina, one girl says. Another wants to get a cat.) My favorite, though, is a drawing made by a five-year-old, who keeps it real.  

To leave your mark on the collective conscience you can visit Galata Rum İlkokulu until May 30. The project is open every day, between 12:00-19:00.  Elif Ince

Galata Rum İlkokulu, Kemeraltı Cad. No 49 Galata.

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