Saturday, April 09, 2005


After a sunny full English breakfast, coffee and iced cranberry juice at Brixton's The Lounge, we headed to Küba -- the art installation of Turner prize nominee Kutlug Ataman, at the derelict Sorting Office on London's New Oxford Street. Ataman interviewed forty residents of Istanbul ghetto Küba and we viewed their stories on battered analogue televisions from an array of frayed and shabby armchairs that could have come straight from any of their own homes.

The residents were largely Kurdish and -- as the name may suggest -- Küba was originally set up in the 1960s by hard-left Kurdish nonconformists looking for a place to hide. Now the shanty town is a refuge for all kinds of people who have slipped through the social net, who are marginalised and disenfranchised. Hardly the kind of place you'd see featured in a guide book or the travel pages of a Sunday newspaper.

A girl tells of her beatings at the hands of her stepmother, a father hopes his son will use education as a means to escape poverty, an elderly woman bristles with pride at the closeness and unity of the Küba residents, a young boy giggles as he breakdances on the floor for the camera, a woman describes the torture she endured for putting up an anti-government wreath, another woman cries because her family cannot afford a car to drive her child to hospital each day, a movie buff talks at length about his favourite movie Notting Hill.

A complex, diverse, and intricately-knit community of outcasts emerges from the cacophonic narratives and makes this installation utterly compelling. It demands repeated visits.

A grittier, more politicised Kurdish counterpoint to the Royal Academy's lustrous Turks exhibition.

The Post Office Sorting Office itself is an extraordinarily dingy, cavernous, labyrinthine shell of a building, full of concrete and graffitti, industrial chutes and nailed planks -- a place from where, up until 1995, almost two million parcels and letters were delivered each week. The site was a refuge for squatters and pigeons before Artangel used it to house Küba.

The Sorting Office (photos)

Küba installation (photos)

Related link:

+ Kutlug Ataman introduces some of Küba's characters to The Guardian:

"Erol has a coop full of special pigeons. His hobby is quite a financial burden, so, to sustain it, he steals money from people at knifepoint, or puts his life in danger by robbing other pigeon coops. ... Nejmi is a complete dyke, but she doesn't realise it. Even her mother says: 'What kind of a girl are you? You have girlfriends!' Nejla says she is in love with the neighbour's daughter. 'I am the boyfriend,' is how she puts it. ... Guler was in love with someone else, but she had had to marry her husband because he had raped her - she married her own rapist because he was her aunt's son."

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