Light Millennium English Banner Logo of The Light Millennium Issue Fall 2001: Quotes
We have only one WORLD yet!
If we destroy it, where else can we go to? - 7th issue - Fall 2001

Ulysses in Manhattan:
A tribute to Burhan Dogançay

by Nilüfer KUYAS

Fragility and resilience. Those are the two themes that hit me whenever I look at the walls of the world that Burhan Dogançay has been documenting for years, with photo camera or on canvas, or when I view his other photographs of city scapes, particularly those originating in New York where he lives.

Brooklyn Bridge (before September 11th) , Burhan Dogancay and a heart photo from Paris walls.

On the tragic day of September 11, 2001 those two themes horrendously came alive and hit all of us. Not only New York, but America and the whole world with it, were fragilized to the extreme, followed by a great show of human resilience.

Detritus and debris. Destruction and rejuvenation. Vulnerability and resistance.These are the other great themes that emerge from Dogançay's obsessive documentation of urban graffiti, metropolitan building sites, or changing city façades from all over the world. But nowhere is it as striking as the work he has produced in New York, his adopted city where he struggled, hungered and suffered to forge the unique style that became his signature.

Like Ulysses, his journey took him far away from the Aegean shores of Turkey, the land of Troy that was his original home, but his Ithaca turned out to be another island at the other end of the world, Manhattan.

It was on a New York rooftop that he first discovered the shadow play on torn posters that led to some of the most exciting forms in his art. It was on a wall in Manhattan that he first encountered the haphazard collage that urban civilization offered and there was no stopping him after that.

Shadow Casting Ribbones, 1983 ( Aubusson wool tapestry, Collection of Erol Aksoy, Istanbul)

Another odyssey had begun for Dogançay. With New York City as the epicenter of inspiration, he started to roam the cities of the world, photographed the graffiti on their walls, observed the palimpsest of torn layers on their billboards, documented the fragility in urban misery or the resilience in popular street art, turning all of this material into unique collages or striking canvases. He had become the spokesman of popular energies.

Third world is within us

Like all true artists, Dogançay moved with the world but also moved the world. He gazed at the human misery reflected on urban walls and years ago predicted that terrorism would be on the rise in the new century. It was not always necessary for him to go into the third world to see the "human debris", the homeless sleeping on the streets. He already knew that the third world is within us, in our own cities, including New York. His photographs from the 1970s of the homeless in New York sleeping in the gutters are ample proof of that.

New York, 1973, "Homeless"

Despite all problems national or global, Istanbul is at the moment celebrating its seventh biennial of contemporary art. Walking through the show, I encountered the artist Francis Alys's series of photographs, "The Sleepers", showing the homeless sleeping on the streets of Latin American cities. I said to myself, that is the kind of unflinching but human vision opened up for artists by pioneers like Dogançay.

It is impossible not to feel that same pioneering spirit in Dogançay when one looks now at his photographs of New York building sites from the 1980s. Plots of rubble, pulled down buildings lying in their own debris, the destruction that was followed by the rebuilding, the cycle of cities to which he was sensitive right from the start. There is energy and big statements in our post-modern urban civilization, but the shadow side of it is the destruction and the suffering. The heroic and the wretched go hand in hand. So Dogançay not only documented the wretched on the gutters, but he also saw the heroes on the scaffolding of high-rises  newly erected. The series of photographs he took on the construction site of the famous "Lipstick Building" in the mid 80's show us another heroic side of the New York working class. The same heroes that today remove the debris form the World Trade Center disaster, were also the heroes who erected the newest skyscrapers of New York in the 1980s. High up, they look like surreal trapeze artists in Dogançay's dramatic black and white images. There is empty space, a steel beam and two men standing on it as if they were chatting on a sidewalk. Simple and striking.

Destruction, yes. Those heaps of rubble, the plots of urban no man's land look chilling. But there is also rejuvenation, rebuilding, resilience. It is not only money and power. It is simple human, day to day heroism. The kind of heroism that knows not itself. The truest kind. Ordinary men doing their "ordinary" work, fifty stairs up from the ground, walking above the void.

There is a direct link between those images of resilience, and the images of resistance coupled with fragility that Dogançay finds in his collages of walls covered with graffiti, posters, signs, codes, messages, images. The urban hell, the urban paradise. Like many an immigrant, like many an artist, like many an Ulysses looking for a new life on the shores of Manhattan, Dogançay embraces the energy of the promised land, the dream of a new world, the nightmare of getting crushed in one's own broken dream.

Bridge of Dreams: The Rebirth of the Brooklyn Bridge

And finally, those images of Brooklyn Bridge during the repair works. The safety nets over that great monument of Lower Manhattan during reconstruction look like the sails of a dream ship. Dogançay photographed that combination of steely modernism and filmy romantism with such simple mastery that you feel almost as if these are fishermen of another age throwing their nets over the ocean or repairing their sails before a new journey. Ulysses on the East River, Ulysses on the Hudson, the construction workers are his shipmates, circumnavigating Manhattan, their Ithaca.

The kind of old fashioned humanism, the Eastern wisdom that Dogançay brings into his work is exactly the kind of energy that fragilized Manhattan shall need to reconstruct and to rejuvenate after the horrific disaster. When the World Trade Center is eventually rebuilt, there is no doubt that we shall see Dogançay on that construction site as well, with his camera and his unique look.

At the end of the Odyssey, the inner struggle in Ithaca is about to turn into a new war when the goddess Athena, the goddess of wisdom, intervenes and calls a halt to hostilities, speaking for eternal world peace. Human resilience in the face of adversity is followed by healing and the hope for peace. When Manhattan, in its unique blend of ruthless power and human fragility, roots for peace and starts healing, it shall need not only its businessmen or moneymakers but its artsits as well, and I am sure Burhan Dogançay will be among them.

It may be a sad coincidence that Dogançay's birthday happens to be 11th of September, but you can be sure that he will do his utmost to turn that date into a birthday again.

Obsession, 1994, (mixed media on canvas, Collection of the artist.)

Last year his hometown Istanbul payed tribute to Dogançay with a huge retrospective exhibition. Walking through that show, I was awed by the resourcefulness and sheer creativity of this remarkable artist. If and when his adopted hometown New York celebrates his work with an equivalent show,  someday soon I hope, his Odyssey will be at last fulfilled, but certainly not finished, because wherever our Ithaca is, there is healing to be done, and peace to rebuild. Dogançay is an important artist and he will have a lot to contribute to that process. And the Light Millenium Project too will have its small part to play, I am sure.

Another Turkish artist who also lives in New York and who is also destined for greatness is the pianist Fazil Say and among his compositions my favourite is a small piano piece called "Dervish in Manhattan". Ulysses and dervish, they are two sides of the same coin, and Burhan Dogançay has a bit of both I think. New York is lucky to have him. We in Istanbul do not mind sharing him with New York, as long as through him and other artists our hands and our hearts are joined still in the hope of a better world. That is the spirit in which The Light Millenium Project was also founded I believe, and in paying tribute to Burhan Dogançay I also salute all the firends who created this project, and extend a specially warm greeting to NewYorkers in their difficult hour.


I'm Voice of the Walls
(Accompany 'Walls of the World' images, January 2000)

A Fictional profile of Burhan DOGANCAY (January 2000)
LMTV: "The Walls of the World" (August 1999)
About Dogancay's book: Bridge of Dreams (March-April 2000)
LMTV: "Bridge of Dreams" (February 2000)
Are We A Reflection of Black Holes? (March-April 2000)
(Accompany with Dogancay's Heart images)

This issue is dedicated to such distinguished artists and author as (alphabetical order):
We will be celebrating the second anniversary with the Winter-2002 issue.
Deadline: January 7, 2002
This e-magazine is under the umbrella of The Light Millennium, Inc.,
which was granted a NOT-FOR-PROFIT organization
status based in New York since July 17, 2001.



© The Light Millennium e-magazine was created and designed by Bircan ÜNVER. 7th issue. Fall 2001, New York.
Tanitim Logo
January, Spirit Logo
LMTV: Burhan Dogancay - Bridge of Dreams
Fugen Gulertekin Interview - Logo
FM-2030 logo
Erol Akyavas dedication
QPTV Dedication Issue
Turkish Greek Synergy and LM Logos