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Iz Öztat’s “Underbelly” – a journey of longing

The Japanese legend has it that the two people connected by the red string are lovers destined to be together regardless of place, time, or circumstances. This magical cord may stretch or tangle, but will never break. 

Iz Öztat's exhibition "Underbelly" presented in Istanbul at the Mısır Apartment in Beyoğlu between February 25 – May 5, 2023 stands out as an impressive tapestry of contemporary art urging the viewer into deep reflections and emotionally immersive works. The exhibition is well-known for the artist's exploration of personal experiences and diverse societal themes, including homesickness, love, longing, desire, and friendship.

The exhibited space encompasses three-dimensional works mentioned in letters, which were produced within the same timeframe. The exhibition engages in a dialogue with historical and current discussions inherent to the autobiographical genre. Traditional autobiography assumes that the author, narrator, and the subject of the story are the same person, and this individual transparently communicates a truth about the "self" to the reader. 

Post-structuralist theories challenge these assumptions about autobiography. The letters featured in the exhibition follows this inquiry, bringing together a fictional narrative concerning the letters' signatory – Z, the writer of the text, Iz Öztat, and Zişan, appearing as a ghost and alter ego to her. This juxtaposition suggests a plural self that fluctuates between reality and fiction, thereby questioning the coherence, integrity, and reliability of the constructing "self" in narratives and emphasizing that every expressed story is inevitably a constructed representation. It also underscores that any effort to convey lived experience is inherently reductive.

To comprehend Iz Öztat and the content of the exhibition, it is essential to consider Zilberman Gallery's statement about it, "When examining the artist herself and her alter ego, Zişan, who has appeared to her as "a spirit flowing through her channel" since 2010, representing an "other self" and a historical figure, Öztat collaborates in a timeless partnership. In the "Underbelly" exhibition, "Starting from the representation of the Tuna River on a military map during Zişan’s journey from Istanbul to Berlin in 1915, Öztat arrives at the artwork titled "As Biography Tuna: Reduced and Simplified". Accompanying artwork "Would you miss me if I disappeared?" narrates the friendship and love between two women symbolized by a red line intermittently flowing across the gallery walls, touching upon the intricate connections lying within artistic production and the mother-daughter relationship".

Considering all these assessments and explanations, it can be observed that the exhibition merges autobiographical narratives with storytelling, prompting contemplation within the human inner world. Associating the consecutive artworks with the red thread to the people along the bloodline path would not be entirely absurd. Each artwork we perceive tells the story of that individual because of the interconnections portrayed. One of the most beautiful examples of these storytellers lies within Öztat's exhibition, such as the addition of the words: "Yearning shines like rice and gold. Because you said nothing remains of gold". These lines are added to reference a friend the artist longs for. Often, the artist excels in establishing strong emotional connections and arousing profound contemplation in execution. Öztat frequently delves into the human inner world, emotional complexities, and societal relationships, offering the audience an opportunity to journey into their own inner worlds by holding up a mirror.

The words and letters in the exhibition generally employ a simple, yet impactful language, particularly when explaining complex aspects. In Öztat's works, the words appeal to the emotional intelligence of the viewer while also embedding profound thoughts and meanings. This depth in the words encourages the audience to reflect and intertwine their emotional experiences.

As an example, a statement present in the exhibition – "Make peace with your wounds; they remember who you are" – reminds the viewer that internal healing involves an increase in peace and acceptance, while also highlighting the power of embracing one's vulnerabilities. Such statements, along with the depth and meanings in Öztat's stories, can leave lasting impressions on the audience.

Iz Öztat's "Underbelly" exhibition reflects the artist's emotional depth, ability to tackle complex subjects related to human psychology, and skill in evoking profound thoughts through words. The exhibition offers an emotionally touching experience while simultaneously possessing an internal potential for learning.


Text: Kinem Bagriyanik

Editor: Julia Pneva

Photography: Zilberman Gallery


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