A young woman is exercising on uneven parallel bars while having her legs waxed by another woman, dressed as a house cleaner. A woman is performing a gymnastic balancing act atop a pommel horse, inappropriately dressed as a housewife, her head covered, while another woman attempts to go under her skirt with what appears to be a sanitary pad, but that is, in reality, a cloth piece from an old bed sheet used for waxing. A young woman is standing on a balance beam wearing sport clothes, but her large breasts, covered by a bra, are located on her back. These scenes from Nilbar Güreş’s series of photographs in Unknown Sports (2009) are set in a gymnasium, where sporting equipment is adorned with tablecloths, traditional carpets cover the floors, and small household objects clutter the space. Güreş’s approach in this series exemplifies Mieke Bal’s definition of theatricality as mise-en-scène: “a form, medium, or practice […] in which the object of cultural analysis performs a meeting between (aesthetic) art(ifice) and (social) reality” (from “Travelling Concepts in the Humanities: A Rough Guide,” 2002.) Against the backdrop of changing gender roles in contemporary Turkey, Güreş produces striking visual representations that challenge the traditional patriarchal order. Routine institutional practices of classification and spatialization – along with systematic sanctions, repetitive exercises, control over deviations, and the taming of bodies – are what constitute the “normal,” a designation that conceals its disciplinary and technological character. In Unknown Sports, there is nothing normal about normality. By performing domestic and beautification procedures, the protagonists of Güreş’s photographs also choreograph the maneuvers of integration of immigrant Muslim women, dictated by European multicultural standards in which economic exploitation is converted into problems of cultura tolerance. All told, the series Unknown Sports (2006–2010) includes works of photography, performance, video, collage, drawing and painting – the artist’s largest and most diverse body of work to date.
Credit: Nataša Ilić
When we feed each other fancy cakes on the slippery satin sofas or want to taste the auntʼs breast milk who has freshly delivered, there is something queer to it. Also, in cleaning, in being a slave there is big potential for a sports career. We could have been high jumpers instead of mop window cleaners, sprinters instead of shop runners, shot-putting instead of holding our siblings in our arms.
There are sports and sports arenas you donʼt know of.
The living room holds the possibility of suddenly turning into a hippodrome, the bedroom may unexpectedly become a fighting ring...
Balance Board (2009)
Girl's Parallel Bar (2009)
Pommel Horse (2009)