March 11, 2017

ğ – the soft g: an exhibition with a gesture

Exhibition view. Photo: Sven Gutjahr

ğ – the soft g is the title of a new exhibition at the Schwules Museum in Berlin, curated by Emre Busse and Aykan Safoğlu. It’s a beautiful title that intrigues, even before knowing what it means. The soft g is used in the Turkish alphabet since 1928 as a hybrid letter adapted from Ottoman language. It doesn’t have much meaning, at least not in the “a to z” kind of sense. “The only purpose of this unprecedented hybrid form," so the curators, "is to lengthen the preceding vowel.” For some reason, it always makes me happy when the Latin alphabet gets subverted. Take Andy Warhol’s From A to B and Back Again or check out the Brief Rebellion in the Alphabet by Chuma Nwokolo. I get annoyed by exhibitions like, for instance, the one at Hamburger Bahnhof, which goes through the collection following the Latin alphabet. Why using exactly that alphabet as underlying structure and why, when we don’t even bother to read dictionaries from beginning till end, would we want to see it? Just to say, I couldn’t be more excited to see an exhibition that introduces the soft g to Germany. 

What happens, the curators thought, if ğ leaves Turkey to migrate to Germany? For them, “ğ is an oriental sound-letter that migrated to a western body of sorts.” What comes about is an exhibition not merely based on a beautiful letter and a beautiful thought, but also one that constitutes a firm gesture that has its weight in current politics and society. It is rare that one encounters an exhibition that makes a gesture. Most exhibitions are eager to go hard to sound “radical,” and would never get the idea that something like a soft letter could be subversive. Yet for Emre Busse and Aykan Safoğlu, ğ illustrates a queer migrant state of mind and their exhibition tracks the transcultural exchange of LGBTIQ* people between Berlin and Istanbul.


Ayşe Erkman, Conversations, 1997. Photo: Sven Gutjahr

I might have been under the influence of the title because my favorites in the exhibition are the works that also play with language. One is by Ayşe Erkmen - a video based on her installation Am Haus, which is displayed on a facade in Oranienstrasse, Kreuzberg, since 1994. It shows the “miş” suffix, specific to Turkish language, used to indicate an Indefinite Past Tense or "heard tense" to transfer information that you have not actually seen and witnessed yourself. As such it introduces various nuances of doubt, uncertainty or hearsay. In times of absolutes of “Just Do It!”, aren't we in need of a “miş” sort of mindset? 



Ming Wong, Soft g, 2017. Photo: Sven Gutjahr

The second work is by Ming Wong, also based on an earlier piece of him, impersonating the Turkish transsexual singer Bülent Ersoy - Bülent being a name that can be both male and female. We hear Wong taking singing lessons, making an effort for the right pronunciation and the right tone. The  tone has to be dramatic, so the music teacher stresses, with a lot of pain in the voice. Wong goes for it, reaching out to the original. An exact imitation would be boring because it’s in the little gap that poetry, and with poetry love comes about. 

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