This documentary has been created as part of the Digital Anthropology (MSc) program at UCL. The filmmaking module, led by the visual anthropologists Vikram Jayanti and Richard Curling,challenges anthropologists to incorporate digital media as a research tool in their ethnographies.
The Minstrel has been nominated one of the three best films in the autumn/winter class in 2012. It is about Ozan Figani’s life, a hairdresser originally from Turkey, Anatolia, who owns a traditional Salon in East London. Little by little he starts to reveal his true first job (music and poem writing).
He is an Alevi. In Turkey, Alevism (considered by many to be a religion similar to Buddhism or a simple way of living) is a popular belief embedded in many political conflicts. It has been oppressed and forbidden for many years in Turkey and only nowadays it is a bit more acceptable. That’s why the culture is based in oral practices such as traditional sayings and poems in the form of songs and through the teachings of the chosen Minstrels (called Ozans). So, in order to keep Alevism alive, Ozan Figani follows the journey as a minstrel: carrying the messages from the past and transmitting it for the future generations.
Convened by the Palestine Film Foundation in association with the Centre for Palestine Studies at the London Middle East Institute, SOAS, the event is the first of its kind in the UK. With presentations by scholars, artists and curators, panels will explore topics ranging from colonial propaganda to video art, from militant aesthetics to visual ethics. The conference is aimed at cinema enthusiasts as well as scholars and filmmakers.
Date: Saturday May 11th
Time: 10:00am – 18:00pm
Venue: Khalili Lecture Theatre, SOAS, University of London, Russell Sq., WC1H 0XG
NB: Space is limited, advance booking essential.
Tickets: £20 full price / £15 students & unwaged (includes buffet lunch)
Clare M. Wilkinson-Weber, PhD, Department of Anthropology, Washington State University Vancouver
In a couple of remarks collected from costume designers in the course of my research on the making of popular Hindi films (“Bollywood”), I was told that a challenge for the designer wanting to create “real” (as opposed to glamorous or overstated) costumes was that there was no interest in or knowledge of how to age them. By aging they meant what is sometimes termed “breakdown” or “distressing” in other theatrical and film industries, or treating the finished costume so as to appear to the viewer that it had undergone anything from days to weeks to years of wear. Considering this question has led me to discussions with ager-dyers and costume designers in contexts where aging is expected and therefore conventional, and the examination of aged costumes and the settings in which they are made.
Aging ranges from more florid forms, creating torn and ragged garments, crusted with dirt, blood and so forth that are called for in specific dramatic contexts, all the way to subtle uses that barely draw any attention at all. The point of extreme aging is to assert the veracity of the experiences, some of them traumatic, of the film’s characters. Tattered, blood-spattered clothing are demanded by vigorous action scenes; dirty, decaying clothes by scenes of poverty and neglect. They speak too to the emotional drain such experiences exact on the characters. Indeed, the painstaking breakdown of costume in action films seems an essential component of the co-option of the indexicality of film images to act as, as Black puts it, a “realist guarantee for the unreal”. Consider, for example, this thumbnail description of the kind of request an ager/dyer might get from a costume designer: “it’s a late 1800s silhouette, they have caught the plague, they’re on a ship, then the ship was hit and they were burnt, and went to the bottom of the ocean for hundreds of years but then there is a good guy. What do they look like?”
At the other end of the spectrum, discreet, restrained aging of a costume can involve as little as a wash before it is worn. Workforce stipulations in Europe and the US insist on the cleanliness and wearability of costume, and some ager-dyers are unusually, perhaps uniquely sensitive to the fact that the mundane new clothing we buy in shops is not necessarily safe or hygienic to wear. But the ultimate answer to “why” the subtlest of aging is done is that in this way costumes look less fresh from the tailor’s bench, and more fished from the character’s wardrobe. The overriding, taken-for-granted assumption in such a conviction is that the plausibility of a costume emerges from the extent to which it seems even minutely ‘lived-in.’ It is in the unconscious recognition of the worn collar and cuff, the shiny knee on the trouser or elbow in the coat, the softer folds or resilient creases of a washed and rewashed blouse, that realism is confirmed.