Fikret Atay makes videos that offer short vignettes of life in Batman, a Kurdish city near the border between Turkey and Iraq. Using a hand-held camera and natural lighting, Atay films young local residents as they perform traditional dances, assemble makeshift drumkits, and play war games. His simple, unaffected style lends an apparently straightforward authenticity to the images, yet the meanings of the performers’ actions remain mysterious to viewers unfamiliar with the local culture. Despite the difficulties of filming in the highly charged political atmosphere of Batman, Atay’s insistence on the specificity of place gives the work a distinctive presence and, despite an occasional hint of danger, the sense of continuity of community.
In Rebels of the Dance (2002), two boys sing and dance to traditional Kurdish songs in the cashpoint vestibule of a bank The title was derived from “Sultans of the Dance”- a folklore-derived TV show featuring ninety dancers, which was a smash hit in Turkey. Under grim lights, they break into a traditional song with nonsensical sounds and turn the space into a stage. The songs follow one another ever faster, ever more rhythmically, and, of necessity, in their own invented language (Kurdish was outlawed in Turkey in the early ’90s). Their sounds, in full harmony, stop at the threshold of communication. A simple performance makes one conscious of the contrast between the ATM as a sign of international capital versus the folk song as a symbol of the local.
In Tinica (2004). A young man stands on a hill overlooking Batman. He prepares with utmost care a makeshift drum set from used cans, plastic bottles, and container covers. He gives a bravura performance to an indifferent and distant city-scape.. Upon finishing, he kicks the drum set down the hill in total detachment. The cans and bottles roll down the slope in the direction of the town and finally come to rest among the rubbish at the bottom. The drumsticks are thrown not to the competing hands of fans, but with disdain towards the town deaf to his desire.
Fikret Atay’s new work HOLIWUUT is a departure from his usual hand-held video technique to a more cinematic technique which mirrors its subject matter. The work is filmed in a lorry graveyard in Turkey, near the Iraq border where the vehicles have been abandoned after being worn out by many border crossings under extreme conditions. A group of children play games among them as if they were the makers and protagonists of a film. They turn a discarded tin into a cinema screen by using white paper and the sun. Although it is acknowledged that it is only a game and the kids know how it will end, the process and cinematic structures are taken very seriously. The site, surrounded by spent machinery and rubbish is a corollary of the tragic and vehement end of the game.