Behind the Wheel – Istanbul

Anny and Sibel Öztürk

The subject of Gastarbeiter creates the crux of Behind the Wheels by Anny and Sibel Öztürk. In the installation Behind the Wheel (2003), the sisters depict the annual trips back to Turkey. The older model Mercedes Benz (or like in Istanbul and in Montenegro another car model) with Offenbach license plate is in the exhibition space, with its rooftop luggage carrier packed with suitcases and a rolled up carpet. The vehicle’s interior is decorated with streamers, doilies, blankets and pillows. One can hear music alongside voices and laughter that remind us of the absent travelers. With maps illustrating the route, drawings (gouaches of moments in the journey), texts on the walls (speaking of longing for the grandfather, the south, the sea), this story tells of the communal experience among the Gastarbeiter, in Germany presenting us a (re)creation of an annual journey between these two countries. Through this work, the Öztürk sisters turn their family trips into a collectively shared experience and memory, and their experience and memory into an art installation.

Although Behind the Wheel might be viewed as a typical work created by the daughters of guest workers, it is an exception as the two sisters Anny and Sibel Öztürk have a rather different (hi)story. Anny was born in 1970 in Istanbul and her sister Sibel in Eberbach am Neckar in 1975. As Anny and Sibel recall:

Our parents left for Germany in 1972. Their decision was made more from a desire for adventure, wanderlust. Both journalists, well off and with one child, they set off to see the world. They did not go to make money. They went to experience something new [16].

Both sisters grew up in Germany and studied at the Städelschule in Frankfurt. When Anny is asked of how being born in Istanbul and spending most of her life in Germany has influenced her art, she responds:

My home is in more than one culture, this fact is reality for a huge amount of Europeans and by no means an exception. This has a big influence on my work and on the collaboration with my sister Sibel. Many of our works are based on memories. Most of them refer to shared familiar memories. Therefore we have reference fields whose character differentiates in a cultural context, Germany and Turkey. Both are inextricably linked with each other [17].

What the sisters do on a personal level is to record and present their memories and subjective experiences which constitute the basis of the work, and on a general level, the work connects simultaneously with the artistic and non-artistic communities in-and-between these countries, as this is a vision commonly experienced during the summer holidays. Behind the Wheel takes the actual mobility of the Gastarbeiter, folds and presents it back to us. The cliché of the Gastarbeiter family; an image of the Turkish worker and his family going back to the ‘motherland’ is in front of our eyes. The Öztürk sisters give an artistic visibility to this journey and its participants although they are physically absent. But where does Turkey stand for these artists? How do they ‘fold’ Turkey into/with Germany? Anny Öztürk responds:

Our connection to Turkey is strong… in our hearts. The language I use when thinking, dreaming, and speaking is German. My Turkish is more of a foreign language. I always want to live in Germany, but I want to be buried in Turkey with my ancestors, with my family [17].

Through their work, we can see how migrants transform geographic and cultural boundaries, how such ‘travels’ potentially change and challenge presupposed understandings of identity.