Translation: Can Aygün

When Adam’s[1] hat is taken off, an absence appears before us. When looked at from the outside of this roof and the safety of his shelter of refuge, Adam[2] is the state of humanity that has lost its power. Adam, the man,  ignores those who are not of his own kind and shapes his house with violence.

Seniha Ünay’s paintings approach Adam through this dark twin. These paintings force us to witness the violence of Adam in the void created by the absence of the victim. While focusing on the acts of violence, Ünay draws on the images taken from the news in the media. Adam is repeatedly shown in action, out of action, and in close-up portraits. The victim, on the other hand, is missing in these paintings, and the violence of visibility is avoided. At the border between the visible and the unrepresented, there is an effort to decipher the meaning and weight of the action.

In these paintings, step by step, we approach the scene of everyday barbarism and the tyranny of the image we see in the news. Our gaze is directed to the action of the perpetrator, and suspended in the void left by the victim. Approaching the scene in slow motion against the high speed of mediatic time [3], this gaze longs to stop and understand. When the action is interrupted, when the sharp movement of violence is slowed down, we begin to read the image in more detail. We are left alone with the perpetrator’s anger, his face shaped by this anger, and the tools of violence in his hands. These paintings stand outside the perspective of the media, which is directed towards the victim, numbing our conscience rather than bringing us closer to the tragedy of the victim. Unlike a representational language that bestows virtue on us by making the victim the object of our pity, it focuses on the perpetrator’s action, forcing us to witness the violence.

The repetitive emptiness in each painting leaves space for a time in which we are able to think outside the mediatic representations of violence. As the victim is left out of this representation, our attention turns to the source of the violence. We are pulled into the world of Adam, while our compassion that affects our thoughts is suspended. When his anger loses its target, the ‘power embodied in violence’ loses ground. Frame by frame, while looking at the tension on the body of the perpetrator, the expression on his face, we look for the meaning of this barbarism in the blurry paint stains. In a moment of anger, the body, which has gathered all its strength and loaded towards its target, becomes tense, while the features of the face take on undefined shapes. As the movement of the action gathered in the body disintegrates in these shifting positions in the paintings, we focus on the ambiguous moments in the perpetrator’s movements.

Seniha Ünay responds to the violence that the media has turned into “an object of spectacle” (2021)[4]; by stopping our gaze at the daily news flowing through our fingertips. We look at different details of the same image over and over. The news in the newspaper headlines painted in ink, on the other hand, tells the gravity of this action by vocalizing it in the sharp image of the language, without leaving any room for doubt. What we are unable to look at becomes legible at the cold-blooded distance of words.

On Ünay’s newspaper pages, we hear the name of the victim and the form of the action. The ink of the writing turns into painterly stains on the page, and the ambiguous staining on the perpetrator’s face invites us to read the images. The expression on Adam’s face is blurry and illegible, unlike the ink that fits within clear borders of the letters. The stain of the image insists on drawing us into the fast meaning of the headlines.

The displacement between seeing and reading reverses the usual media methods used in the face of this violence. In the mediatic relationship of words and images, violence is represented by low-resolution evidence, supporting the language. Unlike the representations of media, these paintings grasp what the language conveys with a callous speed, by thickening and slowing down the image. If the position of the image to the text is “the addendum of presence that gives flesh and consistency to the text” (Ranciere, 2008: 50), the  economy of image in this arrangement is based on a loss of words that slows down the images and numbs the language. In the collision of language and image, our virtuous conscience, which has memorized its response to violence, is suspended. The doors are opened for new answers in the unknown expressions of the faces in front of us. In figures performing a routine job in a calm stance, this time we look at a systematic understanding behind visible violence, not at an exceptional case. Adam cannot be understood without reading the climate of violence underlying what seems to be a state of exceptionality, and its image cannot be approached without reading the destructive power inside Adam. “The Full Mirror of Adam” invites us to look at Adam through another economy of image.

[1] Adam means “person” in Turkish (âdem). When the circumflex accent mark (signified by the hat metaphor) is dropped from the word, it means “absence” (adem).

[2] In the Turkish text, the word “âdem” refers to “people” in general. However, the general connotation of the word “Adam” is acknowledged as the “first man” in English. For this reason, the translation was shaped around the relation of the word between two languages.