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‘Voyage Pittoresque de Constantinople et des Rives du Bosphore’ is an album of engravings created by Antoine Ignace Melling (1763-1831). He came to Istanbul with the invitation of Sultan Selim the Third and lived there for 18 years, making these engravings of the city with great love. The Harem engraving in the album is the picture of a space in which weird figures of women roam. In contrast to the Orientalist tendencies of the period, there are no dramatic or seductive expressions. Women, illustrated with almost scientific precision, look as if they are thrown out of time. My interest in the Harem urges me to articulate these women beyond being objects of knowledge by giving them a voice and pushing them to reveal whatever they hide. What happens when these women start to act?

I think that with some intervention, these women of the Harem, who have been imprisoned by the scientific talent of the artist, can reveal relationships of interest that are beneath the couple of reality and fantasy. Harem, which is closed to the male gaze, is a mysterious space belonging to the other, which is an object of curiosity and knowledge, and is like the other culture, the other sex. This is why, either male or female, the Western subject is interested in the harem and the veil, in other words, the women’s space, body and reality. Melling’s understanding of the Harem is based on hearsay, which allows him to recreate the Harem with his own imagination and artistic skills. The painting negates all doubt by legitimizing the knowledge it contains with the use of Cartesian perspective and is made to hide the unconscious space filled with dreams, desires, fantasies and fears, locking them within itself. The Orientalist discourse and the knowledge produced through it is a way of imagining the East. Today, women are crushed under the burden of both Western and Eastern discourses. Is it possible for a woman, who is at the core of this ideological rhetoric and social contract, to position herself as a subject? I believe in the necessity of pushing the limits of representation and unsettling iconography and myth. I am trying to reach my unrecognizable face in my own culture, through rhetoric figures, representations and images constructed by the Western subject to represent and know the East. By oozing into the Harem, I want to put in motion the untamable and make these frozen images move to open up the possibility of resistance.

İnci Eviner

Women Defining Women in Contemporary Art of the Middle East and Beyond, LACMA, Los Angeles Collective “Healing”, 2023
Inspired by the east – how the Islamic world influenced western art, British Museum, London, 2020
Punk Orientalism, MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina, 2018-2019
İnci Eviner Retrospective: Who’s Inside You?, Istanbul Modern, Istanbul, 2016
Critique and Crises. Art in Europe since 1945, KUMU, Tallinn, 2013
Critique and Crises. Art in Europe since 1945, Palazzo Reale Milan, Milan, 2013
Harem, Turku Art Museum, Turku, 2012
Critique and Crises. Art in Europe since 1945, Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, 2012
Making Room: The Space Between Two and Three Dimensions, MASSMoCA, Massachussetts, 2012
Tactics of Invisibility, Tanas, Berlin, 2010
Tableaux Vivants, Bonnier Konsthall, Stockholm, 2010
Harem, Art in the Auditorium, Whitechapel Gallery, London, 2009
Harem, Galeri Nev, Istanbul, 2009

Installation view from Inspired by the east – how the Islamic world influenced western art, British Museum, London, 2020

HD Video, 3’ loop