"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me," hums the old nursery rhyme, which forms the basis of Fatma Bucak's first UK solo exhibition, Sticks and Stones, on show at Pi Artworks London until 21 November 2017.
Today, in an ever-polarising climate of assault on the press and free speech, words are increasingly used to break those who utter them. In Sticks and Stones Bucak addresses two of the most pertinent struggles of our times: for freedom of expression and freedom of movement. Through her photographs, videos and installations she shows how these two liberties are inextricably intertwined.
Sticks and stones as materials appear frequently throughout the exhibition. Damascus Rose (2016-ongoing) uses rose cuttings that have travelled from Damascus to London where they will then be grafted and cultivated in a bed of earth, in the hopes they will take root. This route echoes the perilous journey and plight of millions of Syrian refugees fleeing the war.
In 342 Names (2016-ongoing), Bucak carved the names of 342 people who forcibly disappeared following Turkey’s 1980 military coup, into a lithographic stone, one on top of the other until they became illegible.
Especially for this exhibition, she has made a series of lithographic prints using one inking of the stone until it stopped producing an image: a humble memorial to the cruel erasure of memory.
Bucak draws from her personal background of belonging to a Kurdish minority in Turkey and from global conditions in which repression, dispossession, migration and violence have transformed human existence considerably. She has developed a subtle and poetic sensitivity in her work that responds to issues of borders, displacement, and identity. Her practice, whether using objects, her own body or those of others, often represents the raw reality of a world becoming intellectually smaller and geographically contained.
The photo series A Study of Eight Landscapes (2014-ongoing) depicts sculptural compositions of objects found along the borderlands of US-Mexico, Turkey-Armenia and Syria-Turkey. Not only do these images offer an alternative view of these liminal spaces, they also implore us to consider a myriad of possible narratives.
In the video Scouring the Press (2016) we see the artist together with two other women crouched on their knees in a rugged landscape. In front of them are tubs of water in which they wash Turkish newspapers. The act embodies the machinery of labour going into censorship.
Another comment on the media landscape in Turkey is Black Ink (2016-ongoing), a recipe for ink made from the ashes of a burned book found at the charred warehouse of an independent Kurdish publishing house. As with all works in Sticks and Stones, Bucak reminds us of the fragility, but also of the resilience of life.
Fatma Bucak: Sticks and Stones is curated by Nat Muller and runs until 21 November 2017 at the Pi Artworks London, 55 Eastcastle Street, W1W 8EG.
All photographs shot by Tim Bowditch and courtesy of Pi Artworks London. Main image: Scouring the press (still image), 2016, HD video, colour, sound, 9 min. 20 sec.