Afyon 2009 is a four screen video projection, lasting 2 minutes on a continuous loop. The videos are projected simultaneously on the four gallery walls, from floor to ceiling, enveloping the viewer in images of poppy fields, from close-ups of buds and stems to panoramic views of the fields. The images are accompanied by a soundtrack of Turkish folk music characterised by the use of a single musical instrument called ‘oud’, a pear-shaped stringed instrument commonly used in Middle Eastern music, and distinguished by its lack of frets and small neck. According to the artist, the hypnotic rhythm of both the images and the music aims to recreate the same narcotic effects produced by the opiate drug that is extracted from poppies. Tate’s copy is number two in an edition of three plus two artist’s proofs.
The work takes its title from the Afyon Province in Western Turkey, where it was filmed. The word ‘afyon’ is Turkish for opium, and the Afyon Province was a major producer of raw opium until the late 1960s when, under international pressure, the fields were burnt and production ceased. Turkey banned opium production in 1971, and began to cultivate opium poppies for the production of poppy straw (morphine) in 1974 and today it is one of the main producers of poppy straw in the world. For decades, the opiate form of the plant has been used as an intoxicating substance to intensify religious experience, for medicinal purposes and, more recently, as a recreational drug. Opium was also the root cause of wars between Britain and China in the nineteenth century, which resulted in Britain’s imposition of punitive trading laws on China. The production of heroin from opium poppies in Afghanistan is also currently implicated as a source of worldwide concern.
Born in London to Turkish Cypriot parents, much of Hulusi’s work involves an examination of his family’s culture and identity. On various visits to Turkey he became fascinated by the layering of history evident in the country’s archaeological remains and modern buildings standing side by side. This video installation, set in what was once the centre of raw opium production, points to a turbulent political and social history that contrasts sharply with the tranquil beauty of the images and the rhythm of the accompanying music.
Richard Hylton, ‘We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us: Redux London’, Art Monthly, no.284, March 2005, pp.36–7.
Jennifer Thatcher, ‘Greenland Street’, Art Review, no.17, December 2007, p.144.