Ates was the second female artist to be awarded the James McLaren residency at Eton College and follows in the footsteps of other luminaries such as Hughie O’Donoghue RA and Norman Ackroyd CBE RA. For this show, Ates, in her signature style, has swathed a 21st century woman in veils of brightly coloured silk sourced from Asian markets in Slough, a city neighbouring Eton, and documented her emotional passage through the hallowed and historic spaces of Eton College, including the Chapel, the Library and the Upper and Lower Schools. Weighted down by the over 500-year history of Eton College, Ates titles this show, the fifth solo exhibition with curator Marcelle Joseph, Fragments, alluding to how this new body of work only reflects a fragment of the annals of this illustrious boys’ boarding school founded in 1440 by King Henry VI.
In line with Ates’ prior time-based practice, her new work explores notions of female identity as seen through the lens of the artist’s own experiences of cross-cultural displacement as well as accepted models of culture in the West. The juxtaposition of the old and the new as well as Middle Eastern exoticism and Victorian propriety are common themes in Ates’ practice. For example, as a resident at Eton College, she was immediately drawn to the Victorian tapestry of The Adoration of the Magi by Edward Burne-Jones that adorns a wall of the Chapel, offering the artist, in her own words, “a window to start to feel a stronger connection with this architectural space”. She was equally enamoured with the Chapel’s wall paintings depicting a medieval story about a mythical empress on the south side and the miracles of the Virgin Mary on the north side. The female subjects of these stories form the backdrop of many of Ates’ new works in the show, in turn highlighting the contemporary veiled female protagonist in the foreground and inviting the viewer to peer backward as well as forward and to question the role of the “veil” with all its contemporary Western readings. Finding resonance in the artist’s own Eton odyssey in 2015 as well as her biography of diaspora and displacement in her home country as a result of her family’s Kurdish and Zaza origins in eastern Turkey, Ates accentuates how Eastern and Western culture can peacefully coexist in these tranquil photographic explorations of the journey of a lone woman, draped in fabric with Eastern origins, through the all-male bastion of Eton College, one of the pinnacles of Western education.