Just looking at her photographs is like getting a blow to the stomach. The kind that hits you straight and hard, leaving you breathless. But it’s not easy to say whether the impact comes from a subtle sense of disgust and repulsion generated from the sight of guts and pieces of raw flesh used as clothing, or whether it’s the enigmatic gaze of the women who seem to stare at you right in the eyes, as if they were looking right at you.
What makes the work of Pinar Yolaçan – the Turkish artist and photographer who many critics consider the new Diane Arbus – stand out is her ability to evoke such contrasting emotions in the viewer, leaving them stunned and disturbed.
For her Maria project – a series of 22 portraits of women – Yolaçan flew to the Brazilian island of Ithaparica: inspired by the typical baroque, opulent style of Portuguese architecture, the artist took innards and tied them together, sewing them as if they were pieces of cloth. She then transformed them into belts, waistcoats or dramatic necklaces, joining them with iridescent fabrics, precious silks and velvets: «I wanted to work with a material that resembled skin, but at the same time our more internal, hidden part», explains Pinar.
Another very strong element of this series is the connection to the maternal figure that these subjects – all of whom are Afro-Brazilian and whose ages range from 27-90 – so forcefully represent: not only through the name of the project, but also in the photographer’s choice to use such an unexpected element as the female placenta.
«I was particularly interested in the placenta because it’s a female organ that develops during birth,» she says. Pinar bought every single “ingredient” of her pictures – fabrics, innards, guts – at the São Joaquim market, in Salvador de Bahia. The hot sun in the region makes everything prone to rot quickly, so Pinar shot her photographs in the early morning, freezing and cleaning the meat before the models’ arrival, sewing the clothes before they were put on. «In the end, it’s not really that different than what we have to do when we cook,» she points out when asked how it felt handling such unusual material.
In any case, this isn’t the first time that Yolaçan experimented with food in a provocative way. Back in 2006 – way before Lady Gaga even thought of wearing a meat dress – her project Perishables featured a group of women dressed in chicken parts, petticoats made of tripe and necklaces made of innards. And even before that, her very first works featured melons lines with elegant velvet or with sequins instead of their own skin. She padded sheep hearts with cabbage leaves and “sculpted” female vaginas into eggplants. Raw food has become a common thread in her work. When asked why, she replies: «I think I’m so interested in raw food because of its transient quality. Anything organic that doesn't have a permanence shows passage of time and I am fascinated by that.»
Hailed by critics, she is praised for her ability to break rules without ever being inelegant or crude, Pinar Yolaçan has been called the new Diane Arbus. «That is so flattering, I admire her work, » she admits. «I think I have a similar way of experiencing life and interest or relationships with "strangers", and we both establish intimacy with complete strangers and that relationship with our subjects is a big part of our work.»