Nilbar Güreş featured in Daily News

Turkish art sees record interest in Belgium

Istanbul: March 29 2019 15:53:00


An international contemporary art exhibition, which has recently opened in the Belgian city of Anvers with the support of Turkey’s T-ONE Association, has drawn great attention since the opening day.

The exhibition titled “The Crime of Mr. Adolf Loos” at Axel Vervoordt Gallery, a significant international art platform, has been visited by 750 people within three days.

Curated by English curator, writer and advisor Alistair Hicks, the exhibition features works by Turkish artists of various generations including Fahrelnissa Zeid, Nilbar Güreş, Aslı Çavuşoğlu and Cansu Çakar, as well as works by international artists such as Guogu Zheng, Kamrooz Aram, Nikita Alexeev, El Anatsui, Senkichiro Nasaka, Waqas Khan and Yangjiang Group.

Speaking at the opening of the exhibition, T-ONE Association President Demet Sabancı Çetindoğan said that she was pleased that works by Turkish artists were displayed in such an important group exhibition.

She said that they supported the exhibition in line with the aim of carrying Turkish cultural values to international platforms and working in communication, media, art and organization in order to provide intercultural and permanent communication and interaction.

In his 1908 essay “Ornament and Crime,” Loos declared that you could not be decorative and modern. He makes no good arguments for this outrageous claim, just asserts it. Yet this view of Modernism has under-pinned the last hundred years of mainstream Western art history.

The exhibition is devoted to contemporary artists who are resisting Loos’ edict. They are finding their own balance between simplicity and ornament. The aim of this show is not only to make people re-examine their prejudice against ornament but rather to show that a curved line is every bit as revealing about the way we think and feel as a straight line.

The exhibition will be open through May 26.



Nilbar Güres Interview by Young Art Review

Contemporary Istanbul took place a few weeks ago. Nilbar Gures was exhibited there at the stand of the New York C24 gallery.

Nilbar Güres is a Turkish artist, born in 1977 in Istanbul. She first studied art in Istanbul then in Vienna where she passed an MA at the Academy of Fine Arts. She moved to New York Ciy in 2011. Today, she lives between Vienna and Istanbul.

She questions the construction of gender in patriarchal cultures in a multidisciplinary work : videos, photographies, installations, collages... She uses her own experience to show what is hidden, to point out the contradictions of rigid traditions.

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Nilbar Güreş "Overhead" featured on

Nilbar Güreş: The search for hidden leeway

The showcase of the artist in Lentos shows a poetic and radical visual world.

"Ayşe loves Fatma", is written in Turkish in large, pink letters on a wall. Before that, in back view two not very young women are visible, one is wearing a headscarf. The two hug each other.

It is one of those productions typical of Nilbar Güreş. The artist, who has already won two of the most important domestic art prizes with the Otto Mauer Prize (2014) and the BC21 Art Award (2015), is shaking all sorts of taboos, but she does it in a quiet, poetic way.

Many of Güreş 'photographic stagings, which are only visible as a facet of a multi-faceted work in the exhibition in Linzer Lentos (until Sept. 10) , can at first glance pass through as simple everyday scenes: A beekeeper takes care of her bees, of one Holzhütte hangs colorful laundry - and behind kiss two.

The artist, who was born in Istanbul , studied in Vienna and now lives in both cities, had once peeled herself out of a mess of headscarves for a video performance (2006). But she has not begun to rip off the cloth in a superficial gesture of liberation: her works speak much more of an interest in the boundary between the visible and the hidden drawn by objects such as (head) cloths, and respect for that Life "behind".

Dignity and resistance

The characters appearing in Güreş ' paintings all radiate dignity and strength - this is true of the old woman hiding behind the box in a red-washed room with a huge water pistol, as well as the transsexual prostitutes standing in front of the chest Skyline of São Paulo posing with a cactus between the legs. The interest in the agency of persons invisible or treated as invisible by dominant forces in society appears as a connecting element.

The series of works transcend both geographical boundaries and those between genres of art: the patterned fabrics, which already play an important role in Güreş 'photographs, develop their own lives in collages and spatial installations - belt buckles become the mouths of a two-headed snake symbolizing "queer desire" The sewing and embroidery tools become weapons.

"Self-defloration" is perhaps the most radical of a series of embroidery images that express their explicit motifs in simple simplicity. For the installation "Hairy Fire" - a kind of fire in a corner of a room, with balls of wool instead of coal - the wall was slightly singed, you can still smell the intervention: the person who keeps the hearth fire at home, also has the power to light the hut.

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Nilbar Güreş interview for EXBERLINER

A certain softness: Nilbar Güreş

By Anna Larkin

Turkish artist Nilbar Güreş on using humour and fabric to craft her own political language.

You may have caught Güreş’ subversive representations of women at the 2010 Berlin Biennale or in her brilliantly deadpan video Undressing at the Jewish Museum last year. If not, fear not: she’s back with her first Berlin solo show at Galerie Tanja Wagner. Her unique brand of pan-medium humour, socio-political critique and handcraft is also currently on view in the group show Colony at Berlin’s Schwules Museum. Güreş, who works between Istanbul and Vienna, sat down with us to talk about her work and what inspires her.

Your work is often called “political” – what does that mean to you?

I feel that racists and fascists are in power everywhere, some openly using religion as a weapon, and some more covertly. I am angry about this and I think a lot of people feel the same. I have a personal language for dealing with political issues. I don’t say things directly; I don’t present photographs of protests as art. It’s not my language. But my work does address the issues faced by oppressed groups, such as LGBTQA+ people. Most art lovers have a comfortable life and don’t want to be disturbed by these politics. I think it’s important to change this hard-hearted attitude.

What are the politics at play behind the piece How I Met Your Mom, for example?

The work is the silhouette of a woman at her window and a man, hiding his penis, trying to flirt with her from below. It’s about the idea that we all have bodies and how religions try to put distances between them, with cloth and rules. It also references animism and all the beliefs that existed before colonialism. The mother could be from any of the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Islam or Catholicism. I don’t like any of them.

Your work crosses multiple mediums, and in pieces such as Snake: Violet you combine ready-made elements with high handcraft. How important is medium to what you produce?

I think medium whispers to us about the artist. I would say I am a painter though, because I always start every work with a drawing. Works using fabric always hold something personal for me. A lot of the fabrics I use are those I collected as a child and asked my mother to keep for me. Cold elements don’t speak to me, I like a certain softness in my mediums: they can mould, integrate, change and move.

Where did you source the fabric for The Lovers?

That came from my dowry box and is very old material. The figures are a lesbian couple, made from two parts of a long pillow usually given to a couple on their wedding night. The saying in Turkish is, “I hope you get old on the same pillow”. I wanted to show that this pillow could be split, to give more space to each person, but still keep them together.

Humour is an integral element in your work – what is its worth to you as an artistic device?

Humour means hope. That is all.

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By HG Masters

There was no sign outside the Abu Efendi Mansion (Konağı) announcing the exhibition “Koloni” (“Colony”) held inside the late 19th-century building located just across the tram tracks from the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya). Given the metaphorically chilly climate in Turkey—incrementally more repressive every month—the understated presence of the show made sense considering its themes and concerns: curators Kevser Güler, Derya Bayraktaroğlu and Aylime Aslı Demir describe these as “the scope of post-human and queer critique kinship.” For context, in November, Turkey’s capital city Ankara had banned all exhibitions and film screenings with lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex themes. Since 2015, police have blocked and violently suppressed the once-annual transgender and gay pride parades held in Istanbul. That “Koloni” was the biennial exhibition of the Kaos Gay and Lesbian Cultural Research and Solidarity Association (known as Kaos GL and based in Ankara) could only have been inferred from the copies of the organization’s magazine available on a table in the building’s foyer.

The artworks of “Koloni” similarly vacillated between explicitness and obscurity. Despite modest external promotion, at the same time, curators didn’t hold back in presenting overtly queer or trans themes to those who had ventured past the security guard. The ground floor, for instance, featured a video by Dynasty Handbag, Oh, Hummingbird (2017), a psychedelic music video starring artist Jibz Cameron’s alter egowearing a nude suit drawn with female genitals while singing a ballad about a hummingbird having to navigate a polluted natural environment. You couldn’t miss the sound of Dynasty Handbag’s singing, though the small monitor was placed on the floor, perhaps obscuring details of her outfit unless you crouched down.

Upstairs, the negotiation between overtness and obliqueness continued in nuanced ways, as artists represented bodies in various kinds of transition or transformation. Nilbar Güreş’s embroidered and painted diptych work, entitled Vaginal Fisting (2014), again required close inspection to see just how she visualized the titular action by hybridizing floral and biological imagery into small figures collaged on blue-striped textile (I noted that in the exhibition map, the title was not translated into Turkish). In a tiny adjacent room was a pair of black nylon pants with a bright pink belt, its crotch melted away in sections—Güreş’s Queer Desire Is Hot (2017)—which, by comparison, seemed like simplistic declaration. Chemical transformations are the subject of Mary Maggic’s video Housewives Making Drugs and accompanying diagram on paper Open Source Estrogen Mind Map (both 2017). The video features two trans-femme stars, Maria and Maria (played by Jade Phoenix and Jade Renagade), who in a mock live cooking show demonstrate how to synthesize estrogen from urine, providing instructions for those who want or need to pursue a DIY hormone treatment. Moving even further into the post-human territory was Daria Martin’s 16 mm film Soft Materials (2004), which was shot in the Artificial Intelligence Lab at the University of Zurich, and captured two nude performers (one man, one woman) trained in “sensory awareness,” interacting with the robotic machines in dance-like routines or intimate touching.

Back in the more esoteric direction were İris Ergül’s Vertebrae(2017), which is a set of amoebic-looking islands of latex and fake fur rising up from the floor—resembling both human and animal parts, internal organs and exteriors. The events in Gökçe Yiğitel’s video recording of a two-hour performance Proteus (2017) were hard to discern in the sunlit space, but the physical remnants involved an audio recording of a 12-minute guided meditation and an “incubation site” comprising a piece of glass, where various bacterial growths were encased in agar and labeled. Also deploying a piece of glass as its surface was Yavuz Erkan’s messy, painterly composition of diverse materials—including “kidney stone(s) of a mother,” “home-grown K3[Fe(CN)6] (Potassium Ferricyanide) single crystal(s),” “broken piece(s) of a brown glass bottle,” bleach and apple cider vinegar, and the handle of a black plastic bag—which had an enigmatic appeal.

Birds—and post-internet aesthetics—returned in several works on the second floor upstairs, including Katja Novitskova’s massive photographic cut-out (sourced online) of a red bird’s curling beak and head, Approximation Mars I“Assemblage Version” (2014), which sits on a bed of correspondingly bright-red aquarium pebbles and blurs all the lines between the natural and artificial realms. Similarly exploring the crossovers between nature and scientific study, Ursula Mayer’s film Atom Spirit (2016–17) imagines a quasi-futuristic, female-led team of scientists collecting DNA from natural locations in Trinidad and Tobago—including from hummingbirds. Meanwhile, Kerem Ozan Bayraktar’s Mimicry (2017) installation and video depicts a flower production factory that is more online retail fulfillment center than greenhouse.

Looking to the past for possible models for the future, İz Öztat installation works were from her “Posthumous Production” series by an alter-ego named Zişan, who was involved (or was imagined to be involved) with early 20th-century avant-garde circles in Europe as well as Turkish socialist groups. These works take the form of various woven cane sculptures, including one visualizing Nietzsche’s idea of the “eternal return” and a hanging woven lattice stitched with the word “Utopie.” Psychosexual dystopias were evoked Erinç Seymen and Uğur Engin Deniz’s pair of digital works. Each is a looping, animated drawing in Seymen’s fastidious style, with surrealist, nightmarish imagery: a mass of bodies pouring from the windows of a school-like building; an amorphous creature comprised of flowers, leaves and human hands holding a ruler and a knife.

Even more difficult to parse—particularly in the absence of texts about the works—were Yasemin Nur’s installation Permeate (2017), a room-installation of squares of old pieces of paper arrayed on old wooden furniture and boxes, and Umut Yıldırım’s booklet resting on a red bench with red buckets of soil beneath it. The latter, titled Lungs (2017), contained poem-like lists of related things—AK-47, M16, RPG-7, for example; or various kinds of vegetables and grains—in what was described in the caption as an “inventory,” though it was unclear of what.

The significance of other works might have also passed me by if I hadn’t gleaned certain biographical or contextual subtexts from friends’ explanations. On the building’s top floor, for instance, a video work by the filmmaker collective İyi Saatte Olsunlar (“Let the Good Times Roll”), titled Raskol’s Axe (2013), is a music video of a drag performer lip-synching the 1978 song Melankoli by the diva Nükhet Duru. The video was directed by the late Boysan Yakar, who was one of the co-founders of the group, and who was known for his work as a mayoral advisor in a prominent city municipality on LGBTI issues, making him one of the only openly gay figures in Turkish politics. He and two other LGBTI activists died tragically in a car accident in September 2015. The show contained another kind of memorial, also hiding in plain sight, in the form of a newspaper sitting on an old armchair in the front foyer, that I only saw on my way out. Aykan Safoğlu’s project The Ark (2017) consisted of the artist placing remembrance ads in Turkish newspapers that—as far as I understood them—read as poetic, personal memories compared to the formal announcements surrounding them, made by families or corporations of the recently deceased.

Safoğlu’s work, like many others in “Koloni,” positioned itself in a paradoxical space:  readily visible and yet largely inscrutable, at least on an initial glance or to those inadvertently coming across them. “Koloni” itself, as with many recent cultural events and exhibitions in Turkey—including the last two editions of the Istanbul Biennial—revealed how progressive organizations, curators and artists alike are figuring out how to avoid unwanted attention from the forces of emboldened chauvinism and ethno-militarism that dominate public life in Turkey today. While this increasingly restricted space compels artists and the cultural community to be more savvy in their presentation of challenging materials—and most likely to engage in even more forms of self-censorship than before—the accessibility and legibility to the wider public of such cultural events has severely diminished. But at this point in time, even the simple fact of survival for boundary-exploring intellectual and cultural events like “Koloni” remains an achievement.

HG Masters is the editor at large of ArtAsiaPacific.

Koloni” is on view at Abud Efendi Konağı, Istanbul, until February 3, 2018.

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Nilbar Güreş among 10 female modern and contemporary women featured in Istanbul Modern International Women's Day workshop

Istanbul Modern free for women today

March 7, 2018

International Women's Day, March 8, will be celebrated at Istanbul Modern, and all museum entries, workshops, guided tours and movie screenings will be free for women, and the Modern Shop will offer special discounts.

In a workshop organized specially for women, participants will create a mural based on their personal experiences. While pondering how emotions and thoughts can be visualized, the workshop also focuses on discovering the liberating elements of artistic expression.

Works of female artists will be examined:

The guided tour, specially organized for women, includes works of art by 10 female modern and contemporary artists. The engravings of Aliye Berger, the "Hapishanede Ziyafet" ("Feast in Jail"), Nilbar Güreş's "Soyunma" ("Underdressing"), Hale Tenger's "Strange Fruit," Handan Börüteçene's "Kendini Bana Getir" ("Bring Yourself to Me"), Selam Gürbüz's "Silik Kostüm" ("Obscure Costume") and "Autoportrait," İnci Eviner's "Yeni Vatandaş I-II-III" ("New Citizen I-II-II"), Nil Yalter's "Başsız Kadın ya da Göbek Dansı" ("Headless Woman or Bellydancing"), Fanrelnissa Zeid's "Soyut Kompozisyon" ("Abstract Composition") and Nur Koçak's "Cahide'nin Öyküsü Serisi" ("Cahide's Story Series"), all included in the "Artist in Their Time" Istanbul Modern collection, will be visited through a 45-minute guided tour.

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Nilbar Güreş in Financial Times

Sex and Death by the Sea

By Rachel Spence

A young woman is unwinding a headscarf that masks her face. As the fabric falls, another is revealed beneath it while the heap of coloured cloth on the table blooms higher. Entitled Undressing, this elegant film by 34-year-old Istanbul-born Nilbar Güres complicates stereotypes by hinting that self-concealment might be universal, even desired.

Showcased by her gallery Rampa at Frieze, Güres’s work not only sold but also drew praise from curators such as Hans Ulrich Obrist and Frances Morris of the Tate.

Güres is also present in Dream and Reality. An exhibition of 74 Turkish female artists at the country’s premier modern art institution, Istanbul Modern, it suggests an art scene in excellent shape. Aside from Güres’s film, other pieces include a painting of a building that is both a perfect grid and irredeemably damaged, by Canan Tolon; a spine-chilling installation from Hale Tenger that suspends real sabres above a vat of blood-red liquid; a painting cycle by 37-year-old Leyla Gediz (also in Rampa’s stable) that sensitively articulates a woman’s passage to maturity; and, by Inci Eviner, a video of women singing and dancing on a map of Europe that expresses the loneliness of migrancy.

These artists are part of a generation who have benefited from Turkey’s singular identity. Ruled now by an Islamic government, the country retains a certain creative freedom bestowed by its secular predecessors yet without the latter’s military repression.

As a Middle Eastern democracy with an exuberant free market, Turkey has seen a surge of interest in contemporary art, boosted by the patronage of families such as the Eczacibasi, who sponsor Istanbul Modern, and the Koc, whose foundation sponsored this year’s biennial and runs the no-profit contemporary space Arter. Most recently, another powerful conglomerate has just opened a new museum, Borusan Contemporary, in its company’s HQ on the Bosphorus.

In Istanbul, there are now more than 200 commercial galleries and two contemporary art fairs: Art Beat Istanbul, which launched in September, and Contemporary Istanbul, which runs this weekend. Stylish new galleries are opening, most recently Galeria Mana, which was launched this September by former White Cube employee Suzanne Egeran, and which offers both Turkish and foreign artists such as Douglas Gordon.

In spring 2009, Sotheby’s opened the first department devoted to Turkish modern and contemporary art in its London office. This year, Bonhams followed suit, holding a contemporary Turkish sale in April.

Yet right now, the market is a mixed picture: reports of Art Beat, which took £3.5m ($5.4m), were downbeat; at Sotheby’s last sale, in April 2011, 35 per cent went unsold.

A gloomier horizon was forecast by Bonhams’ foray. With 66 per cent of lots unsold, little wonder it has no plans to repeat the experiment.

“There has been a lot of hype around Turkish art and the Middle East. Collectors have been buying pieces purely because they come from that region,” observes Bonhams’ Middle East specialist Katia Vraïmakis as she explains the decision to fold Turkish art back into the general contemporary sales. “This way, we can select the works on the basis of quality and provenance.”

Quality is key if Turkish art is to consolidate its reputation. At auction, the strong works held up well. At Sotheby’s, for example, “1879 (From the Lost Painting Series)” – an arresting painting of a veiled Ottoman woman standing in front of Courbet’s chilling image of female pudenda, “L’Origine du Monde” – by photorealist Taner Ceylan smashed its top estimate of £70,000 to make £229,250.

It is telling that Christie’s has chosen to wrap Turkish art into its sales of Modern and Contemporary Middle Eastern art in Dubai. Its October sales featured just 11 Turkish works, all of which sold, the majority within or slightly above their estimate. Middle East director Isabelle de la Bruyère puts the good result down to the “carefully selected” nature of the works.

It also attests to the strong regional nature of the market. “At first 80 per cent of Middle Eastern art was bought by Middle Eastern buyers, now it is 60 per cent,” says de la Bruyère, who admits that in choosing works they take account of cultural tastes. “Of course, you have to be careful with the imagery.”

Certainly, the painting by Azade Koker that became the top Turkish seller – a sinister, mixed-media apple whose brilliant scarlet skin was assembled from human faces, would not have offended any sensibilities. (It made $122,000, against a top estimate of $90,000.)

At a moment when the Middle East art market is suddenly vulnerable (Christie’s and Sotheby’s Islamic art sales realised $23.8m this year, compared with $60m last year), Christie’s decision to divide the sale into two parts, the first containing more expensive works, the second with estimates dropping to $3,000, allowed it to attract younger buyers.

This generation are keeping Turkey’s internal market buoyant. “Our young people are growing up feeling close to contemporary art,” says Ali Gureli, chairman of Contemporary Istanbul, which boasts 90 exhibitors compared with 73 last year.

He puts his fair’s success down to his country’s economy, which, “unlike the rest of the world”, is booming. “For the first time, per capita income topped $10,000 a year and although their goal is $20,000 in 2023, I think we’ll get there sooner,” he observes. Clearly, while other Middle Eastern markets jitter under political unrest, Turkey’s stability is a major advantage.

The problem is that contemporary masters such as Ceylan and Tolon have inspired a raft of derivative followers. “There are 54 fine arts academies in the country, yet, apart from the three or four, the education they offer is questionable,” observes Haldun Dostuglu, director of Galeri Nev in Istanbul, where artists include Inci Eviner, Canan Tolon and Hale Tenger. “After four years, students graduate with a diploma but it doesn’t necessarily make them artists.”

Much of this underwhelming art takes the form of iIl-conceived photo-realism, installations and photography that confirm the stereotypes they are hoping to challenge – a plethora of digitally retouched semi-naked females, a surfeit of headscarf commentaries, painting that confuses abstraction with decoration or makes uninspired use of calligraphy.

The younger generation would do well to follow the example of one of the country’s most established collectors, Omer Koc, who only buys the very best of his country’s offerings.

Guests at a lunch party given by Koc during the Istanbul Biennial were left in no doubt, for example, of Taner Ceylan’s talent. Koc has hung Ceylan’s painting of a boxer, “Spiritual”, so that the fighter’s blood-flecked face dominates the entire ground floor of his beautiful, Bosphorus-facing villa.

This is no mean feat given that the works with which it competes include the gory masterpiece “Prometheus Unbound”, by 17th-century titan Luca Giordano, a sculpture of a faceless, skinless copulating couple by contemporary Belgian star Berlinde de Bruyckere – which the Giordano actually inspired – a colour-fizzing view of the Bosphorus by Paul Signac, several superb self-portraits (a favoured genre of Koc) by Egon Schiele, and “Two-Faced Cunt”, Jake and Dinos Chapman’s hard-to-stomach sculpture of a naked, two-headed girl-child.

“The trouble with so much contemporary art is that it is so conceptual, so cerebral, and you say, yes, it is a wonderful idea but it leaves you cold,” murmurs Koc, as we talk over thick, sweet coffee in the company of an entourage of friends and advisers.

Ranging across centuries and borders, his own collection is both charmingly eclectic and powerfully coherent. “Sex and death,” he says, laughing, when asked to sum up the themes.

That there are only the choicest examples of Turkish contemporary art in Koc’s private home testifies to his refusal to compromise his own taste for the sake of geo-political correctness.

Through the Koc foundation, however, he is building a public collection that focuses on contemporary art from Turkey and the region. As well as Ceylan, Turkish artists that Koc rates include Tenger, Deniz Gul – whose installation of Louise Bourgeois-like cupboards is currently on show at Arter – and the painter Nuri Kuzucan. At Frieze, the foundation snapped up Güres’s work.

It intends to frame these young talents against a core of early Turkish conceptualists such as Sarkis and Fusun Onur (whose pared-down installation of stained fabric and wooden table struts was one of the surprise hits of this year’s Istanbul Biennial). “We are trying to secure the lost memory [of Turkish art] so that it will become a reference point for institutions beyond Turkey,” explains Koc’s friend and adviser Melih Fereli.

Such initiatives are essential if Turkish art is to develop a critical framework to match its commercial explosion.

Contemporary Istanbul ends on Sunday, ‘Dream and Reality: Modern and Contemporary Women Artists from Turkey’ is at Istanbul Modern until January 22, 2012

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Nilbar Güreş In The New York Times


Multilayered and Multicultural, Creative Views of the Muslim Head Scarf


The hijab, or Muslim head scarf, is supposed to deflect attention. So what should we make of the model wearing a leopard-print version and an eye patch? She’s the creation of Princess Hijab, an anonymous Parisian street artist, who adorns women in advertisements with impromptu black-marker “veils” and papers public spaces with her own hipsterish “Hijab Ads.”

The princess is the Shepard Fairey of the French Muslim world or maybe the Naomi Klein. Is she a “hijabist”? Or even a Muslim? We don’t know. But you can see some of her work in “The Seen and the Hidden: [Dis]covering the Veil,” at the Austrian Cultural Forum in Midtown Manhattan. The exhibition, which includes artists from Europe and the Middle East as well as American artists of diverse backgrounds, reminds New Yorkers that debates about the veil are heating up in many communities overseas.

It is hardly the first show on this subject, but the humor in many of the works is refreshing. The artists are overwhelmingly young and Internet-savvy. They speak in the acerbic and autobiographical tone perfected by Marjane Satrapi, the Iranian expatriate who has recounted her experiences with the veil in “Persepolis,” her graphic-novel series, now an animated movie.

A selection of prints from “Persepolis” (Volumes I and II) opens the exhibition. In an early sequence a young Ms. Satrapi, attending school in the wake of the Iranian revolution, chafes at the enforced wearing of the chador. Later in the story she learns that her veiled classmates can still send subtle cues to their personalities and styles.

“With practice, even though they were covered from head to foot, you got to the point where you could guess their shape, the way they wore their hair and even their political opinions,” Ms. Satrapi writes in a text above a drawing that illustrates her thought process.

Another Iranian-born artist, Sara Rahbar, expresses a similarly complex attitude toward the veil. Her color photographs show a beautiful woman in Qajar dynasty costume peering through glittering curtains and examining her reflection in ornate, mirror-tiled walls. There’s a sense that Ms. Rahbar, who fled Iran during the war with Iraq but has since returned there to live, doesn’t feel at home in either the idealized past or the uncertain present.

Using the veil as a physical object rather than a symbol in short video performances proves to be a winning strategy. One standout is “Undressing/Soyunma” (2006), by the Turkish-Austrian artist Nilbar Güres. In the six-minute piece Ms. Güres emerges from beneath many suffocating layers of colorful scarves, unwrapping them one at a time as she recites the names of the friends and family members who provided them. Her act is suspenseful and more than a little seductive, with a dramatic pause before the final piece of fabric is shed.

In Fahreen HaQ’s “Endless Tether” (2005), a three-channel video, this South Asian Muslim artist and a mysterious white male play a mesmerizing game of tug of war with a length of billowy red fabric. Ms. HaQ rotates her torso in one direction and then the other, wrapping and revealing, or being swaddled and stripped, depending on who is in control.

Not everything in the show is as tasteful as these works would suggest. Katrina Daschner’s sprawling video installation “Cartographies of Sex” manages to be both puerile and preachy. Ms. Daschner, a German-born, Vienna-based artist, performs a gender-bending burlesque routine inspired by the 1940s Egyptian belly dancer Naima Akef, but her awkward gyrations bring to mind “Brüno,” the fictional fashion-crazed Austrian.

Marlene Haring, another Austrian, fares only slightly better. Her works hinge on “veils” made of long blond hair. In the photograph “Because every Hair is different” (2007) a seated woman is completely covered, like a Sasquatch. The sculpture “False Friend (Long Chair)” (2009) turns a Corbusier chaise longue into an exaggerated version of Meret Oppenheim’s fur-lined teacup.

The curators David Harper, Martha Kirszenbaum and Karin Meisel have clearly made an effort to include artists, like Ms. Daschner and Ms. Haring, who don’t have Muslim or Middle Eastern backgrounds. That’s admirable, but the most compelling art about the veil comes from women who have some personal experience with it. (Ayad Alkadhi, an Iraqi painter, is the token male in the exhibition.)

And for all its sensitivities, the show doesn’t distinguish between the different kinds of veils in the Muslim world: the head scarf, the chador and the burka, to name a few. The wall texts treat these garments more or less interchangeably, as most Westerners see them. To his credit, the Austrian Cultural Forum’s director, Andreas Stadler, acknowledges this issue and others in an essay titled “It’s Not About the Veil, It’s About Us.”

In more than a few places you can sense artists grappling with the veil’s place in contemporary Western life. It happens in a work by Asma Ahmed Shikoh, a New Yorker of Pakistani descent, who collected hijabs from 100 Muslim-American women. Her sculptural installation takes the form of a honeycomb and refers to Chapter 16 of the Koran, which praises bees as a model for human healing, sustenance and spirituality.

The collaborative format of Ms. Shikoh’s sculpture hews closely to classic feminist art like Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party.” Each hijab is nestled in its own hexagonal cell and accompanied by the wearer’s name, occupation and place of residence. It’s a straightforward celebration of diversity and plurality.

At the same time, Western attitudes about clothing (conformity versus self-expression) come face to face with the Islamic world’s sartorial proscriptions. Among the many different colored and patterned veils in the honeycomb is a striking red-and-black zebra print. You can picture it on one of Princess Hijab’s poster girls.

A version of this article appeared in print on August 14, 2009, on page C26 of the New York edition.

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