ISTANBUL — The first wall viewers encounter in Sinan Tuncay’s impressive new solo show at Istanbul’s C.A.M. Gallery features four photo collages representing the traditional milestones in a young Turkish man’s life. The man joins his neighborhood soccer team; visits a brothel for his sexual initiation; is paraded around town by his friends in a car sporting a Turkish flag before his obligatory military service; and dances with his male relatives at his wedding celebration.
All of the men in these photographs are the same person: Tuncay himself. For each work, the artist photographed himself in different outfits, hairstyles, and postures, then photoshopped the images into a single composition. By literally projecting himself into both public and private spaces typically reserved for heterosexual Turkish men, Tuncay has created an alternate reality in which he takes part in rites of passage that he never experienced, growing up gay in Turkey.
These and other works in the show — titled Reserved for the Men I’ve Never Become (Olamadığım Adamlara Mahsustur) — grapple with ideals of masculinity and gender in Turkish culture in ways both compelling and playful. The New York–based artist’s third solo show, and his second at C.A.M., consists of new work (all 2019, except “Cadillac I,” 2018), on view for the first time.
In “Whole Country Is a Hookah Place” (“Memleket Nargile Kafe”), Tuncay stages a scene of men hanging out at a hookah cafe, replete with classic and contemporary trappings: worry beads, tea glasses, full ashtrays, cellphones, wallets, and keychains adorned with an evil-eye bead or a Turkish-flag emblem. The men’s poses and body language exude macho swagger — but these tough guys also display a palpable closeness and even physical affection for one another, befitting Turkish society’s strong homosocial bonds.
Other works explore the male–dominated atmosphere of a barbershop, a bathhouse, and a military barracks. Several photomontages of damaged high-end cars in carpeted interior settings critique the vehicles’ ostensible masculine symbolism. A large antique wooden armoire in a corner of the gallery is left slightly ajar for the curious visitor to peek into, revealing a photograph of a man’s naked body partially covered by a blond wig. Titled “The Back Room” (“Arka Oda”), the work embodies gay Turkish men’s fears of closeting and self-alienation.
Also on display is a two-channel video installation, “Treat Me Like a Friend” (Bir Dost Gibi Davran Bana), in which Tuncay fast-motion cycles through hundreds of costumes and props in a commentary on Turkish and American gender stereotypes, embodied in movie and media icons and advanced through consumer culture. Like a human paper doll, the artist tries on a range of styles, from cowboy to pin-up girl to military camouflage to Ottoman robes, head-wraps, and belly-dance outfits, the pieces often paired in hilariously anachronistic ways.
This leads to the show’s final component, a limited-edition paper-doll book, I Can Be Everything You Told Me Not to Be (Utanma Benden), featuring many of the videos’ costumes and accessories. On the reverse of the cut-outs are slang expressions in Turkish and English referencing gender and sexuality (e.g., “Mama’s boy,” “Grow a pair”).
The artist says the book and videos came out of his interest in playing with paper dolls as a child — a stereotypically female activity that often kept him entertained while other boys in the neighborhood were out playing soccer. In this striking body of work, Tuncay is finally free to offer his own critical take on both “feminine” and “masculine” tropes.
Reserved for the Men I’ve Never Become continues at C.A.M. Gallery (Firuzağa, Çukur Cuma Cd. 38/A, Istanbul, Turkey) through October 19.