When Turkey was undergoing modernisation under Ataturk in the 1920s, the fez was banned in a bid to force adoption of European headwear. This legislation was protested and lead to over 50 deaths, including, in 1926 in Erzurum, that of a Turkish woman nicknamed ‘Şallı Bacı’ (‘Scarf Lady’). She was hung as a sign to women who, though forbidden at the time from wearing either fez or hat, were thus warned off this accessory, considered equally in opposition to secular Turkish nationalism. Çavuşoğlu imagines a gravestone for this nearly anonymous individual, the inscription on which is simply ‘Şallı Bacı.’
In her previous projects the artist has attempted to recover forgotten moments in Turkish history, from banned books and independent leftist documentary to spiritualist visions of future. During the period in Turkish history that this work addresses, the Ottoman Turkish alphabet was replaced by Western script making many historical archives illegible. Peculiarities of such archives – such as their isolation from the visual languages and concerns of popular media for instance – occupy a central position within Çavuşoğlu’s practice.
We do know that Bacı was the first woman in the Republic executed for political reasons. Her monument is made in the old Ottoman style in which the gravestone is roughly the shape of a human figure – donning a fez and embossed with abstract floral patterning it mixes female and male elements. A monument to the life of an individual ‘whose remains persist in obscurity’ Çavuşoğlu’s memorial makes this historical void conspicuous.
Aslı Çavuşoğlu (b. 1982, Istanbul) is an artist living and working in Istanbul. She received her BFA in Cinema and Television from Marmara University Istanbul. Selected solo exhibitions include MATHAF Arab Museum of Modern Art, Qatar, 2016; ARTER, Istanbul, 2013; Delfina Foundation, London, 2013; Gallery NON, Istanbul, 2013. Recent group shows include The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2016; Manifesta 11: Zurich, 2016; The Fellbach Triennial of Small-Scale Sculpture, 2016; Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, 2016; Cuenta Biennial; 2016; Museum für Neue Kunst, Freiburg, 2016; RAMPA, Istanbul, 2015; The New Museum Triennial, New York, 2015; La Panacee, Montpellier, 2015; Second Kyiv International Biennale, 2015; SALT, Istanbul, 2015; 14th Istanbul Biennial, 2015; Witte de With, Rotterdam, 2014; Galeria Vermelho, Sao Paulo, 2013; MAK Museum, Vienna, 2013; HMKV, Dortmund, 2012; ICA, London, 2012; Performa 11, New York, 2011; Borusan Contemporary, Istanbul, 2011; Kadist Art Foundation, Paris, 2009. Çavuşoğlu was artist in residence at Fiorucci Art Trust, Isle Li Galli and Kastellorizo, in 2016 and at The Museum of the History of the Polish Jews, Warsaw in 2015.