As one of Turkey’s few openly gay artists and directors, Kutlug Ataman has dealt with conservative distributors unwilling to show his films and even faced a death threat from a crazy compatriot.
So the Istanbul-born filmmaker must relish the chance to change attitudes with his work, right? Not quite.
That’s not part of my art. I can do that anyway, without being an artist, if I want to, and I did it when I was young, Ataman asserts, saying coming out in Turkey was itself inherently political.
I’m not going to use my art as a tool for something like that.
Instead, Ataman, who trained at film schools in Los Angeles and Paris, prefers to focus on how people re-enact themselves in front of the camera and reconstruct identity.
The 44-year-old, pictured, has explored that theme in three feature films and in video projections, which he started showing publicly by coincidence in the late 1990s.
I didn’t really make the change myself. I was just doing my pieces and they kind of found their venues, Ataman tells Sydney Star Observer.
Following a retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art last year, a selection of Ataman’s work opened at Sherman Galleries in Paddington this week.
Among the videos on show this time is a projection of a sleeping man featuring the artist’s real-life lover.
But same-sex love is not at the heart of the work: Ataman said it depicts the fool who sleeps through it all and turns his back and is a comment on humanity generally.
Ataman’s films have been less ambiguous on gay issues. His 1999 movie Lola And Bilidikid follows a young gay Turkish man battling prejudice in Berlin.
It was basically people who traditionally complained about German racism who were being homophobic themselves, the director says.
The film won acclaim at festivals around the world, but met with a frostier reception at first in Turkey.
When Lola came out I had problems and distributors didn’t want to show it in Turkey, Ataman says.
But when the film won the public prize in the Istanbul Film Festival, they saw money and picked it up.
Lola And Bilidikid also earned its director a threat on his life, which he dismissed with impressive nonchalance.
There are crazy people everywhere. This is not something that I take seriously.
The artist’s optimism extends to gay rights in his home country, which he says are improving somewhat as Turkey seeks entry to the European Union.
It’s still a huge problem -“ we still have murders, he says.
But slowly it’s starting to change, and I think I would say among the Muslim countries it’s probably the most advanced.
The Kutlug Ataman show is on at Sherman Galleries, 16-20 Goodhope St, Paddington, until 18 February.