Exhibitions: do Turkish migrant workers bring German style home?
When you finally decide to leave the place where you’ve lived as a migrant worker – in some cases for decades – and return to the country of your birth, what exactly do you leave with and what do you leave behind?
As you might expect, in many cases the migrants who journey home for the final time do so with a changed sense of identity and perspective on the world, a new language, new friends and family members, pets, habits, memories and personal effects.
But according to an exhibition that has opened at Salt Galata in Istanbul, the migrants also return with something that’s rather more unexpected – a transformed sense of domesticity and space. Migrating Spaces: Architecture and Identity in the Context of Turkish Migration grew out of a three-year research project, organised by the artist and academic Stefanie Bürkle and her students and colleagues at the Institute of Architecture at the Technical University of Berlin, which analysed and catalogued 132 homes built or renovated by so-called “Deutschlander” migrants returning to Turkey from Germany.
Originally exhibited in March at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin the project also formed the basis for an international conference as well as a book of the same name which has been published by the Berlin-based publisher Vice Versa Verlag.
In typical architectural fashion, the exhibition’s photographs, maps, diagrams and video installations of the migrants’ Turkish homes are organised according to three typologies: “model houses”, “two-faced houses” and “multi-layer houses”.
If “model houses” are defined as an attempt by returning migrants to reconstruct a Northern European house on Turkish soil and “two-faced houses” are homes that combine elements of German domestic architecture with local Turkish vernaculars, Bürkle’s “multi-layer houses” are architectural hybrids, the bricks and mortar equivalent of what the post-colonial theorist Homi Bhabha described as the “third space”.
“For me the importance of hybridity is not to be able to trace two original moments from which the third emerges, rather hybridity to me is the ‘third space’ which enables other positions to emerge,” Bhabha explained in an interview in 1990.
If Bürkle’s analysis is correct, then as the number of migrants increases, the cultural and architectural negotiations made by returning Turkish gastarbeiter (guest workers) will start to play out globally.
This in turn will create a new architectural language and a sense of material identity that reflects the sense of flux that increasingly defines our age, one that is the product of here, there and everywhere, all at the same time.
• Migrating Spaces: Architecture and Identity in the Context of Turkish Migration runs until July 31 at Salt Galata in Istanbul, Turkey. For more information, visit www.saltonline.org
Nick Leech is a feature writer at The National.