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Alexandra Klobouk: Istanbul mit scharfer Soße | Kleiderfragen© Alexandra Klobouk

Barbara Buchholz on "Istanbul mit scharfe Soße?"
Hot-blooded and loud living

The title refers to one of the clichés that define how people in Germany view Turkish culture: #Istanbul, with hot sauce? Fittingly, the young woman on the cover, the sketch reduced to a few lines, rides a kebab skewer over curling waves, straight towards the haphazard silhouette of a city out of which crooked domes, turrets, roofs and minarets rise.

Alexandra Klobouk, who was born in Berlin in 1983 and whose rolling ‘r’ betrays her Bavarian origins, decided one day to get to the bottom of a culture, which, though very present in Berlin, is little known beyond the clichés. Some of the widespread prejudices – also that Klobouk felt at the time – are illustrated on the first pages of #Istanbul, with hot sauce?: a grim looking man with a moustache who is loudly hawking his vegetables; a veiled woman who maintains a distance while following her husband, and is carrying shopping bags; or the silhouette of piles of concrete and palms behind the walls of a package tour paradise.

Klobouk, who studied visual communication at the Berlin Weissensee School of Art, then learned some Turkish and enrolled for a semester in Istanbul as a guest student of graphic design to form her own impressions of Turkey and its people.

That this resulted in many drawings, a complete little book in fact, was a later development, she says: ‘I discovered there was a need to tell this story. Drawing was the best way to do it, precisely because it is obviously very subjective and reflects my very own personal impressions and does not say anything about a culture with which I engaged only for a very short time.’

In the red and black book printed on a matt white paper, and in chapters with keywords such as ‘language', ‘slightly different’, or ‘lovely and heavy’, Klobouk depicts the special aspects of Turkish culture, as they appeared to her. ‘The guest is king and is not allowed to do anything,’ it says in an illustration in which a lone individual appears to be sinking into an enormous sofa; at her feet, a carpet with an ornate oriental design, while people in the kitchen next door are enjoying each other’s company while chopping, cooking, and chatting. Another illustration shows what a complex undertaking it is to get from point A to point B with a dolmus, or shared taxi, whose driver would need seven hands and two heads to do all that he has to do simultaneously.

Klobouk’s graphics also acknowledge the acoustic and other chaos on Istanbul’s streets. Cars, handcarts, pedestrians are cluttered on one side, sound words between them – vertical, horizontal or diagonal – the letters in curvaceous handwriting. ‘HÜP HÜP’ comes from the bonnet a car, ‘riiiaaooo’, screams a bird, ‘öyle’, shouts a woman from a window. This illustration teeming with figures is captioned: ‘Be loud if you are alive!’

The graphic portrayal of flowery figures of speech is also beautiful: a string of letters floats out of the mouth of a person like a ribbon and forms the phrase ’May you have a long life’, a get-well wish (instead of the standard ‘bless you’); or two young people intertwined on a bench live up to the literal translation of ‘hot-blooded’ – the Turkish word for ‘youth’.

Klobouk had the texts in her book translated into Turkish, which is in italics right next to the German text. Language is essential for understanding culture, but when the German student came to Istanbul for the first time in February 2008, she understood virtually no Turkish. That she was nevertheless able to gain an insight into the culture in the months that she spent there were thanks to Duygu, her flatmate and friend in Istanbul. ‘At first, she spoke no English and I spoke no Turkish, we communicated with our hands and feet. But from the very start, she made me a part of her life, took me along with her friends and explained everything to me.’ says Klobouk, adding that Duygu became a kind of cultural translator for her.

All these observations are summed up with humour and affection in #Istanbul, with hot sauce? The figures, city views and interiors are stylised and sometimes exaggerated in the manner of cartoons. If, when looking at Alexandra Klobouk’s drawings, you feel reminded of Saul Steinberg’s modernist illustrations in the New Yorker or of Sempé’s fine line, you are not wrong. Klobuok has high regard for these two classical artists who she considers her role models: ‘What I also really and truly like about the two is the subtle humour and humanity, an interest in other people and in how extraordinary people are.’

Alexandra Klobouk | Istanbul, mit scharfe Soße? DEUTSCH-TÜRKISCHE AUSGABE. 112 Seiten
13,5 x 18,5 cm. Klappenbroschur. Fadenheftung. Verlag: ONKEL & ONKEL, 12,95 EUR. Artikelnummer: 978-3-943945-09-6