Azade Koker’s 'Murder of a Mannequin' critiques conventional symbols of femininity

Multimedia artist Azade Koker’s exhibition Murder of a Mannequin at Zilberman Gallery, Istanbul, reassesses the conformist-consumerist views on female beauty.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Dec 04, 2021

The long effort to break the cycles of cultural production and consumption, determined by the idealised standards of feminine disposition, if, is gaining the attention of the public, yet many hurdles punctuate the journey. Based between Berlin and Istanbul, the multimedia artist Azade Koker’s latest exhibition, Murder of a Mannequin at Zilberman Gallery, Istanbul, extends voice to break the conventional views on gender and body. The mannequin put to public display, one of the commonly found visible symbols of feminine beauty, turns into a potent site for the artist to raise the pertinent questions, “How is it that the feminine energy that is the source of the birth of the world and life disappears in the social order? What silences it, limits it, and makes it passive?”

Deconstruction (Venus)| Murder of a Mannequin| STIRworld
Deconstruction (Venus) Image: Kayhan Kaygusuz, Courtesy of Azade Koker and Zilberman, Istanbul

In an interview with STIR, Koker offers an elaborate account of the presence of the mannequins in the consumerist culture, “They are known to be designed in accordance with changing standards in fashion, and have long dictated certain body sizes on women. The fact that women aspire to look like these mannequins is also shaped by fashion itself. Whereas it is not an obligation for men to look like male mannequins, it has been, and still is, a paradigm for women against which they measure their self-worth.”

Peplos| Murder of a Mannequin| STIRworld
Peplos Image: Kayhan Kaygusuz, Courtesy of Azade Koker and Zilberman, Istanbul

The artist traces the permeability or exchange, between women and mannequins through the lens of art history. In the Italian Renaissance, the ‘composition of woman’ in its idealised form appears on canvas as a new utopia for femininity. Koker mentions, “In the Renaissance, there are no works produced by women who get to serve the art world solely as a model. The Renaissance woman, stripped off of all her creativity, led a life of a cultural object instead of creating a culture. Discovered during the Renaissance, emotions such as ‘falling in love' and ‘feeling intimate’ are not directed to real women, but to idealised forms of women in the work. In Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, the mythological character of Venus gains the cult status in Florence, instead of Simonetta Vespucci herself who actually modelled her.”

Installation View, Murder of a Mannequin| Murder of a Mannequin| STIRworld
Installation view of Murder of a Mannequin Image: Kayhan Kaygusuz, Courtesy of Azade Koker and Zilberman, Istanbul

The interplay of visible-invisible in terms of materials - Japanese paper, tulle, wire, iron cauldrons - creates a kaleidoscopic appearance of the sculptures, installations, and collages within the exhibition to push the viewers to see what is not so apparent to the naked eyes. This practice found regularly in Koker’s works is a reflection on the complexity of the social responsibilities when approached by the book of gender. Koker argues, “The material come together and result in hollow forms. They can be observed only on the surface. The audience can only imagine, think, and maybe know what is inside, but cannot see it. Blurry transparency on the surface makes visible the void and absentia. We know that things can never be fully perceived, our knowledge of them is only fragmentary and shadowy. The reason for this lies in the dimensions of our experience and the border of our senses.”

Violence I | Murder of a Mannequin| STIRworld
Violence I Image: Kayhan Kaygusuz, Courtesy of Azade Koker and Zilberman, Istanbul

The tension lies between the labyrinth of absentia and presence to gauge the paradox value of the work. The contradiction if on the one hand, “makes the surface visible with shapes, colours, materials, and masses, on the other hand, they are transparent and diffused locks. They refer to an essence that does not exist.” Koker adds, “The wires dipped in fine tulle can actually be a unifying object of evidence between the existing and non-existent, the context of which only I know.” The materiality of the works expresses its presence and originality.

Installation view, Murder of a Mannequin| Murder of a Mannequin| STIRworld
Installation view, Murder of a Mannequin Image: Kayhan Kaygusuz, Courtesy of Azade Koker and Zilberman, Istanbul

The state of in-betweenness pinned to her works hints at the ambivalence experienced when nature loses its harmony. Moreover, the discussion around femininity and feminism remains incomplete if the significance of nature is not realised. The urge to meet the unachievable beauty standard set forth by the beauty industry is proportional to the exploitation of nature induced by urban modernism. “We are now watching with horror that nature is in a state of disintegration”. The act of dismemberment is mirrored in the social arena, “Where the negative forces of cultures and religions are deployed in order to marginalise and categorise people. To me, it looks like everything comes to a breaking point like a chain and gets scattered.”

Violence II| Murder of a Mannequin| STIRworld
Violence II Image: Kayhan Kaygusuz, Courtesy of Azade Koker and Zilberman, Istanbul

Through the presence of mannequins in the exhibition Koker affirms, “If the ‘mannequin’ which represents the image of woman today and exists thanks to the fast production technology, it is also now getting deconstructed as part of the post-feminism process.” The artist, as the title of the exhibition suggests, illustrates the annihilation of the stereotypical symbol of femininity to usher in the wind of change: let women be the agents of change rather than the passive receptor of social judgements.

Koker is hopeful that the works will be “effective in terms of triggering a thinking and feeling process for visitors. However, I do not think that I have the vision to be didactic, give ideas, or provoke anyone as part of my artistic attitude.”

The exhibition when contributes to the soaring debates around the importance to dismantle the edifice of prejudice against women and womanhood, ascertains there are miles to go before sleeping.

Deconstruction (Venus)| Murder of a Mannequin| STIRworld
Deconstruction (Venus) Image: Installation shot by Kayhan Kaygusuz; Courtesy of Azade Koker and Zilberman, Istanbul

The exhibition Murder of a Mannequin runs at Zilberman Gallery, Istanbul until December 4, 2021. 

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