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Mike Mandel & Chantal Zakari: The State of Ata: The Contested Imagery of Power in Turkey Hardcover – April 30, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


Two visual artists--one American, the other Turkish--traveled throughout Turkey over 12 years, driven by an image they found everywhere. Their new book, "The State of Ata: The Contested Imagery of Power in Turkey" (Eighteen Publications), is at once a travelogue, oral history, photo album, and meditation on Turkey's past, present, and future. Mike Mandel and Chantal Zakari, a married couple who both teach at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, returned to Zakari's native Turkey to explore the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Republic of Turkey and its first president. His image hangs in schools and other public buildings through the country and virtually every town has a statue of him. Atatürk, who died in 1938, pushed Turkey to become a model Western state. The wearing of religious clothing in public was banned, women's legal rights were expanded, and the Arabic alphabet was dropped in favor of Latin characters. Yet a divide remains. In 1997 when Zakari held up a picture of Atatürk at a march of Islamists as a sign of her support for a secular society, she made front-page news all over Turkey. Mandel writes that some in the religious media accused Zakari of being an agent of the CIA seeking to divide the Turkish people. Others gave Zakari flowers for taking a stand. --Jan Gardner --Boston Sunday Globe, April 25, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Eighteen Publications (April 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0918290104
  • ISBN-13: 978-0918290106
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 8 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,187,286 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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The State of Ata is one of the more thought-provoking and visually stimulating books I have read in quite some time. In the process of exploring the iconography of Kemal Ataturk and its significance in contemporary Turkey, artists Chantal Zakari and Mike Mandel have created a fine-grained portrait of a society in transition. As the hundreds of photographs in this volume demonstrate, Ataturk's image is seemingly everywhere in Turkey. He still provokes a wide range of emotional responses, which are captured well in the dozens of interviews Zakari and Mandel conducted during the years they spent working on this project.

In what is perhaps the most powerful section of the book, Zakari became the subject of a national debate when, finding herself on the sidelines of an Islamicist protest march against the state's secularist policies, she held up a small framed image of Ataturk. She was instantly hailed as a hero in the Kemalist press ("the girl of the Republic") and condemned as an agent of a larger Jewish and/or CIA conspiracy in Islamist outlets. The modesty of her original gesture, as well as her stated intentions in subsequent interviews hardly mattered at all. Both were quickly co-opted into larger opposing narratives in this bifurcated society.

Through its lush illustrations and penetrating interviews, The State of Ata brings contemporary Turkey to life like no other book I know. It is substantial enough to merit careful scrutiny from serious observers of the region, as well as those interested in the larger issues of iconography and myth formation. It is gorgeous enough to merit pride of place on the coffee table. I highly recommend it.
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This book by visual artists Mandel and Zakari sheds light into the current Turkish culture at a time in history where interest in Turkey as a regional power is gaining momentum.

The images tell the story of what Turkey has always been since the modern republic was founded: a place where the old and the new, the liberal and conservative strangely exist side by side, quite comfortably. A place where trends come and go, but the undying love instilled in the icon, the father of the republic endures almost blindly.

In addition, personal stories by Chantal Zakari informs us of another obscure fact; the coexistence of minorities in the mix of a tolerant muslim culture, practiced since the glory days of the Ottoman empire.

Finally what I liked most about the book is the presentation of differing, unpopular opinions that add balance to the discussion.

This is one book I can keep in my library that will serve as both a guide and a reminder of the complex world I call "the motherland".
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Where is "The State of Ata"? Physically, it is the country of Turkey, dating roughly from the end of World War I to the present day. In psychological, social, political and spiritual terms the State of Ata encompasses the shaping of a country and a people by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, revolutionary leader and founder of the modern state of Turkey, who came to prominence as a charismatic visionary in 1923, and changed the contours of Turkish society and politics until his death in 1938.

Although his tenure as a Turkish leader spanned a mere 15 years, he is still controlling the fate of contemporary Turkey, and it is doing so essentially through the imagery of him-photographs, paintings, sculpture, cartoons and tapestries-rather than his actual influence. How is it that the imagery of the man who became known as Ataturk still permeates every aspect of Turkish culture some 70 years after the death of this unique leader? Even today, his images are omnipresent throughout the country, in every city and town, every building public and private, and in the daily lives and the minds of the Turkish people.

It is the search for the sources of the influence, power and meaning of the imagery of Ataturk which has led the artists--American photographer Mike Mandel and his Turkish-born wife Chantal Zakari-on a decades long adventure culminating in a rich and exciting tapestry of a book, full of extraordinary images and widely diverse, strongly held, opinions. They have produced a fascinating exploration of the history of The State of Ata from the time of the Ottomans until today.

This journey, which began as a project in 1997, is taken by two people whose experience of Turkey is entirely different.
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A fascinating story of transformation from observer to participant, situated somewhere between comic and coffee table book, memoir and cultural archive. As a student and teacher of graphic design, Chantal Zakari and Mike Mandel's The State of Ata was for me a thought-provoking lesson on the historical evolution of visual communication. It is clearly also a story of homecoming, communication among strangers and family, and the complicated relationship between Turkey's residents and the country's history.

Mike Mandel's photos provide a gripping window into Turkey's daily life. I am engrossed in the details and textures of these images, particularly when his commentary gives some insight into the experience of photographing strangers in an foreign setting. Occasional pixelated, low-res images from Zakari's camera phone or video camera give jittery, informal peeks at the same scenes through the eyes of someone far more familiar with the setting. Images juxtaposed create imaginary spaces, a wordless commentary on the fraught relationship between photographer and subject. Reading, I found myself confronted with the need to reflect on my own position as a viewer and interpreter of these hyperreal, yet (at least for me) foreign, images. Mandel's repeated use of the phrase "to make a picture" (rather than the more familiar "to take...") makes it hard to forget that each image has its own backstory of conversations, negotiations, questions, and logistics.

This backstory unexpectedly becomes the center of the action when Mandel and Zakari create a staged photo at a protest march. A photo project that begins as "a small intervention" catapults Zakari to nationwide importance, making her image a focus for the political ambitious and moral preferences of a host of observers.
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