Acts of Erasure brings the two distinct artistic practices of Fatma Bucak and Krista Belle Stewart into dialogue. This pairing opens space for conversations around political identity concerning land and heritage, methodologies of historical repression and interpretation, and the act and effects of erasure.

Bucak was born in eastern Turkey and identifies as both Kurdish and Turkish, an identity inherently tied to the social realities of border landscapes. Her work expresses a negotiation and interrogation of the ideological and conceptual conditions of these liminal spaces. Stewart is a member of the Upper Nicola Band of the Syilx (Okanagan) Nation in British Columbia. Her practice draws out personal and political narratives inherent in archival materials, while questioning their articulation in institutional histories.

The photographic emphasis in Bucak’s work is realized though sculptural forms. For this exhibition, she has reconfigured an earlier artwork, Remains of what has not been said (2016). The updated version embraces the gallery space to serve as a record of opposition to censorship, in the context of an absence of wider structural resistance. Bucak has produced several works in which she washes the newsprint from daily papers to represent incidents of suppression within the media. In remains of what has not been said, stained water from the ink of 84 newspapers, printed on different days, has been bottled and held for all to witness. Each jar bears a note dating its contents, beginning with February 7, 2016—the day referred to as the “basement massacre,” when over 150 civilians were killed by Turkish security forces in Cizre, a Kurdish town close to the Syrian border. Each of Bucak’s photographs in this expansive series differs only slightly and becomes part of a chain that suggests how propaganda spreads and infiltrates society.

Another of her works, A Study of Eight Landscapes (2012–16), confronts the contingency of border spaces and the tenuous interdependency that resides within them. To produce these still-life photographs, Bucak worked collaboratively with people living and working near and across borderlands. The composed objects collected from these sites explore mental and material realities of spaces where conditions of life are highly dependent on the entities on either side of a border. The photographs present a stark view of transitional landscapes, such as those between the United States and Mexico, Turkey and Armenia, and Syria and Turkey.

Stewart’s work featured in this exhibition examines a contentious subculture in Germany. In 2006, she began researching and documenting the “Indianer”: a group of hobbyists who dress up and role-play based on depictions of North American Indigenous peoples in the books of 19th-century author Karl May. Stewart initially visited two towns in the east of the country to meet with “Indianer” members, and more recently, in 2019, she attended one of their annual summer gatherings. This period of research, which she describes as a form of “reverse anthropology,” has resulted in the mixed-media installation Truth to Material (2019–ongoing). The project thus far comprises a series of large photographic images taken in 2006, 2007, and 2019; a video; and two costume artifacts made by the “Indianers.” Through her work, Stewart exposes the complexity and absurdity of her presence and her interest in this community. Her receipt of faux relics by means of a pseudo-Indigenous custom is reflected in the way she exhibits them as museum-display objects. Similarly, by installing photographic evidence of the “Indianers’” activities as vinyl prints on the floor, Stewart both occupies a section of the gallery and forces us to walk upon and scuff the “Indianers’” acts of appropriation.

Despite their very different personal heritages and experiences, both Bucak and Stewart interrogate perceptions of cultural identity, indigeneity, and the notion of the nation-state. Through collaborative, research-focused art practices they probe shared historical constructions and fallacies. Their resulting works present encounters with truths that are both revealing and oftentimes unsettling.

—November Paynter

Fatma Bucak’s participation is supported by the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, Toronto