Turkish Artist Tunca Subasi Deconstructs Documentary Techniques to Rewrite History

Born in 1982 and based in Istanbul, Turkish artist Tunca Subasi—often known simply as TUNCA—is celebrated for a subversive practice in which he explores the fluid nature of truth by deconstructing documentary techniques. Trained as a painter, Subasi creates artworks that are inspired by and even derived from archival documents, generally historic photographs of global or local significance. The idea of the archive—a taxonomical device that is presumed to both organize and preserve facts and events—provides the artist with the conceptual marrow for his work; but consistently, his additions and interpretations obscure and inflect the subjects they ostensibly document.

A recent series of Subasi’s black-and-white, stencil-and-airbrush-generated images, for example, offer personal elaborations on and re-imaginings of political revolutions and upheavals from our modern era. “Desire,” an exhibition of new charcoal-on-paper drawings on view at art ON Istanbul, parses history through food—or, more specifically, through the favorite meals of some of the 20th century’s most well-known leaders, from Castro to Churchill, Atatürk to Mao.

To begin the series, the artist conducted comprehensive research into the lives of these important—and occasionally infamous—figures, seeking to determine their most desired meals. Then he searched for photographs in which they are pictured eating those items, and translated the photographs into photorealistic drawings. Beyond the series’ investigation of a topic as subjective as taste through a supposedly documentary lens, which is compellingly paradoxical in and of itself, Subasi’s works also engage the fraught history of photography as both an art form and a journalistic tool, and its complicated relationship to other forms of visual art. By subjecting photographic images to the filter of his own perception, and through his own hand, Subasi provocatively destabilizes the notion that any historic moment—a “truth”—is capable of being captured with objectivity.

—Emily Nathan

Desire by TUNCA” is on view at art ON Istanbul, Istanbul, Dec. 2, 2014–Jan. 3, 2015.

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