Germany presents Nil Yalter’s exhibition “Exile is a hard job”

For the first time, the contemporary Turkish artist Nil Yalter will do a survey exhibition in Germany at the Ludwig Museum, opening on Friday 8 March 2019, at 7pm. An incredible goal for the feminist artist who, since the 1970s, has worked as a pi­oneer of so­cial­ly en­gaged and tech­ni­cal­ly ad­vanced art. She is one of the first artists in France to use the new­ly emerg­ing medi­um of video.


Nil Yalter - Exile Is a Hard Job (Estranged Doors), 1983 (Detail) - Courtesy Nil Yalter und Galerie Hubert Winter, Wien - © Nil Yalter - Foto: Simon Veres

The exhibition is called “Exile Is a Hard Job” and is made in cooperation with the Center for Curatorial Studies, Hessel Museum of Art, Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. The poster se­ries “Ex­ile Is a Hard Job / Walls” for the exhibition will be cont­in­ued in public places in Cologne. The draw­ings and pho­tos from her 1977 work “Turk­ish Im­mi­grants”, plas­tered on walls like wall­pa­per, are put up with­out au­tho­riza­tion in vari­ous neigh­bour­hoods. The exhibition in 1977 included an installation, with photographs and drawings on Turkish immigrants workers and their families in Paris. Now, she writes the slo­gan “Ex­ile Is a Hard Job” on the posters in the dom­i­nant lan­guage of each neigh­bour­hood: Ger­man, Turk­ish, Ara­bic, Rus­sian, or Pol­ish. The work is by and for mi­grants, whose ex­is­tence is both ob­vi­ous and ab­sent.

Feminism, political and social issues, workers’ rights are the main objects of her art, across borders and cultures, depicted in painting and photos that are mixed up all together in video art performances. Nil Yal­ter’s works emerge from cur­rent po­lit­i­cal si­t­u­a­tions such as the sen­tenc­ing to death of a Turk­ish ac­tivist, dai­ly life in a wo­m­en’s pri­son, or the liv­ing con­di­tions of il­lit­er­ate “guest work­ers.” Lan­guage plays an im­por­tant role for her, along with cul­tu­r­al in­flu­ences from the Mid­dle East, Turkey, and West­ern Eu­rope. She sen­si­tive­ly in­te­grates the voic­es of the peo­ple de­pict­ed in her artworks. Us­ing a quasi-an­thro­po­log­i­cal metho­d­ol­o­gy, she re­flects the life si­t­u­a­tion of th­ese in­di­vi­d­u­als and makes margi­nal­ized groups of peo­ple vis­i­ble. Al­ready in the 1970s, the artist be­gan deal­ing with femi­n­ist is­sues, in­clud­ing mi­grant and queer per­spec­tives. This makes her work seem more rel­e­vant than ev­er to­day.


Nil Yalter - Turkish Immigrants, 1977 (Detail) - Sammlung Reydan Weiss - © Nil Yalter - Foto: espaivisor, Valencia

Born in Cairo in 1938, the artist grew up in Istanbul and has been living in Paris since 1965. As a pan­tomime artist, from 1956 to 1958 Nil Yal­ter trav­elled to Iran, Pak­is­tan, and In­dia. From 1963 to 1964 she worked as a stage de­sign­er and cos­tume de­sign­er at vari­ous the­atres in Is­tan­bul and in­creas­ing­ly con­cen­trat­ed on paint­ing. In 1965 she moved to Paris, where she lives and works even today. She had her first so­lo ex­hi­bi­tion in 1973 at the Musée d’Art Mod­erne de la Ville de Paris. With a fo­cus on eth­no­log­i­cal and so­ci­o­log­i­cal ques­tions, the artist ex­amined the po­si­tion of wo­m­en in no­madic tribes in Turk­menis­tan. To ac­com­pany To­pak Ev, a spe­cial­ly re­con­struct­ed tent, she cre­at­ed wall pan­els with draw­ings, pho­to­copies of pho­tos and texts that re­flect the lives of the no­mads. With her femi­n­ist video work “The Head­less Wo­m­an or the Bel­ly Dance”, a piece that stands out in French contemporary art history as one of the early feminist-art classics, in 1974 she par­ti­ci­pat­ed in the first in­ter­na­tio­n­al video art ex­hi­bi­tion in France and emerged as a pi­oneer of French video per­for­mance.

In re­cent years her work has been re­dis­cov­ered. She was in­volved in the trav­ell­ing ex­hi­bi­tion “Wack! Art and the Femi­n­ist Rev­o­lu­tion”, which was shown at the Mu­se­um of Con­tem­po­rary Art in Los An­ge­les and Mo­MA PS1 in New York (2008). Other so­lo ex­hi­bi­tions fol­lowed at venues in­clud­ing FRAC Lor­raine in Metz (2016) and Arter – Space for Art in Is­tan­bul (2016).


Nil Yalter - Exile Is a Hard Job / Walls, 2018 - Vietorstraße, Köln, Kalk - © Nil Yalter - Foto: Henning Krause

The Mu­se­um Lud­wig is pre­sent­ing the di­ver­si­ty of her work, in­clud­ing pre­vi­ous­ly lit­tle-known paint­ings from her ear­ly work and video in­s­tal­la­tions from the ear­ly 1970s to mul­ti­me­dia in­s­tal­la­tions, in which she com­bines pho­tog­ra­phy, video, draw­ings, and sculp­ture in­to col­lages. The ex­hi­bi­tion traces the path of her en­gaged aes­thet­ic. Curated by Rita Kersting, the exhibition is generously supported by the German Federal Cultural Foundation, the Kunststiftung NRW, and the Peter and Irene Ludwig Foundation. Additional support comes from SAHA – supporting contemporary art from Turkey and the Rudolf Augstein Foundation. The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue.


Nil Yalter: Exile is a Hard Job

Period: 9 March 2019 – 2 June 2019

Opening hours: Tuesday through Sunday: 10 am to 6 pm

Every first Thursday of the month: 10 am to 10 pm

Closed on Mondays

Where: Museum Ludwig

Heinrich-Böll-Platz

50667 Köln – Germany

Entry: regular 11 €, reduced 7.50 €


-Giulia Zamponi