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Tracing absence

Ever visited a historical site and wondered about the times gone by, the people who inhabited the site and the darkness that fills the missing figures now?In 35 year-old photographer Guler Ates’ ongoing show, A Trace of the Traceless at The Loft, veiled figures are placed in colonial, post-colonial sites such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, Leighton House Museum and Great Fosters, in the UK. “In my photographs, the figure signifies an absence. For instance, historical traces may exist in architecture, but have become invisible, erased over time. Yet they remain present in the layers of the space — traces of cultural influence,” says Ates.


Guler Ates’ photograph titled Golden Passage

The process
Ates first researches the history of the sites that interest her. Depending on the surroundings and the other items present at the site and in her frame, she decides on the fabric of the costume or veil for the performing model to wear. Satin, net, velvet or lace is used in such a way that it stands its stead inthe frame.

“As part of the performance, the subject unfolds a story drawn from the history of the site, exploring my feeling of cultural duality,” says Ates, who works with colonial, post-colonial and Eastern sites. Although Ates was born in eastern Turkey, she now lives and works in London.

Inspired by Netherland’s old master paintings and the darkness and intensity of the works, the photographs are reminiscent of the masters of painting from the golden era of Dutch painting between 16th to 18th centuries, which include Rembrandt, Rubens and Vermeer.

“My work comments on the Western notion of Orientalism and the effects of the cross-pollination of cultures on female identity and architecture. I question the relationship between the veil and the West, and by setting the female veiled figure within a lush European interior, she subtly refers to the West’s mistaken ‘far-right’ interpretation of the veiled woman,” explains Ates, in an email interview.

And what brings her to Mumbai again? “The art, culture and the fact that I can see the sea when I want,” concludes Ates, whose project at the City Palace Museum, Jaipur will be exhibited in London, Istanbul and Amsterdam this year.

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