Kutlug Ataman

Women Who Wear Wigs


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Not on display

Kutlug Ataman born 1961
Video, 4 projections, colour and sound
Overall display dimensions variable
Purchased with funds provided by the Middle East North Africa Acquisitions Committee 2011


Women Who Wear Wigs is a four channel video installation with sound featuring four women from Turkey talking about their experiences of wearing wigs and why they decided to wear them. The video lasts for sixty minutes and is shown on a continuous loop, projected onto four screens measuring a minimum of four metres high by two and a half metres wide or on to a wall previously painted with Rosco white paint. The stories of the four women run simultaneously, creating a cacophony of sounds and images that, at times, makes it difficult to follow each woman’s individual testimony. The video has English subtitles.

Ataman was born in Istanbul, Turkey in 1961 and has pursued a career as both a filmmaker and an artist. His work documents the lives of marginalised individuals, examining the ways in which people create and rewrite their identities through self-expression, frequently blurring the line between reality and fiction. Women Who Wear Wigs was made for the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999; despite being presented as a multi-screen installation, it is deliberately modest in technique, retaining the immediacy that characterises home movies.

The first video features Melek Ulagay, a left-wing activist who protested against the 1971 coup d’état in Turkey. At that time, Ulagay acted as a courier for a leftist youth organisation and, in order to avoid the authorities, she disguised herself as an air hostess, wearing a blond wig that, at times, would made her look even more suspicious, standing out in the crowd in a country where most women are dark-haired. She was mistakenly accused of kidnapping a Turkish Airline plane that was diverted from Istanbul to Bulgaria. After this event, she had to hide from the police and she stopped wearing the wig. Ulagay was one of the few members of the leftist underground resistance who was never arrested by the police. During her testimony, she is first shown in a wig store, and later in front of a mirror in her bedroom nonchalantly recalling the events of her youth while she tries on the wig and styles it.

Journalist Nevval Sevindi began to wear a wig after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and the side effects of chemotherapy left her with no hair. In the video, Ataman accompanies her to a chemotherapy session, where she is portrayed confidently facing up to cancer while she explains how she was diagnosed, her reaction and how she never lost her sense of humour. Later she appears in a hairdressing salon, reflecting on womanhood, intimacy and baldness.

The video of the third protagonist operates in stark contrast to the other three, in that the subject remains invisible and unnamed. In this video, the screen is almost black and only the woman’s words are projected onto the background. A devoted Muslim, she is a student from Istanbul who has decided to wear a wig to attend university where head scarves – as well as other religious symbols – are forbidden. The wig allowed her to reach a compromise with the conflicting requirements of her university and her religion.

Demet Demir is a transsexual who wore a wig to enhance her female identity when she worked as a prostitute. Recorded in her apartment, Demir talks to the camera about the symbolic, performative and transforming significance of the wig she wore after the police had violently cut off her natural hair, or when her hair was thinning from the stress of repeated police brutality and social harassment.

Through their statements these women explain how they have constructed their identities at different times in their lives through the wearing of wigs. Ataman’s interest in filming real people – as opposed to actors – reflects upon the strategies that people use to construct and fictionalise their public persona in front of the camera. By juxtaposing these four testimonies, Ataman examines the many different factors – whether conditioned by society or by individual actions and beliefs, or simply the result of natural events, such as illness – that are involved in the creation of personal identity. In Women Who Wear Wigs identity is thus presented as a social construct. Ataman has observed: ‘Identity is not something that you possess, but something that you wear.’ (Quoted in Turner Prize 2004, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2004, p.4.)

Further reading
Kutluğ Ataman: Perfect Strangers, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney 2005.
Emre Baykal, Kutluğ Ataman: You Tell Me About Yourself Anyway!, Istanbul 2008.

Carmen Juliá
February 2010

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