Meet the Neighbours

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Review of 'Küba' by Kutlug Ataman, The Sorting Office, London

With Küba, Kutlug Ataman has filmed a misrepresented or unrepresented group of people, living on the edge of Istanbul in a place called Küba. He invited these people to tell their stories and he gave them plenty of time to do it. He spent more than two years collecting the stories of this marginalised and diverse 'community'.

Küba can't be summed up in an easy phrase. Constructed (it was never 'established') in the late 1960s as a neighbourhood of politically safe houses, Küba is part shanty town, part refugee or travellers' camp, part prison or safe haven. It's also a place full of contradictions. The people who stay there are at the same time loyal and treacherous, pious and blasphemous, violent and generous.

Ataman has selected 40 of these people to talk to us and presented them separately on 40 different TV sets. The TVs, sitting on mismatched TV cabinets, are all pointing in the same direction with a discoloured, padded chair or tatty sofa seat in front of each to sit on. The furniture of poor people never resembles the coordinated model of the ideal home exhibition. The poorest people scavenge and steal and adapt things to fill their homes. They fight over the discarded debris of others. The furniture here might have come from Küba itself.

As you walk into the space there is the loud noise of undifferentiated voices. Only when you sit down and focus can you discern a particular voice and read the subtitles. But the background hum of other voices stays with you and you always know if you get impatient with one story you can choose to listen to another.

The exhibition is housed in a disused and temporarily abandoned sorting office in the centre of London. This must be prime real estate and, like Küba in Istanbul, potentially worth millions to property developers. But not yet. For the moment, the lives of these people occupy the space.

Their words are translated with English subtitles, and it's questions of translation and historical interpretation that play a central role in Ataman's work. The people from Küba talk of rape and addiction, tenderness and despair and we are fascinated and believe their every word. But Ataman is keen to suggest that, like all of us, these people sometimes lie and tell half-truths, embellish and exaggerate their experiences. We forget things and make things up. We are often insecure and want to cover our tracks. At other times we are generous and offer beautifully honest stories that give more than they take. We've all got stories to tell and we begin to represent ourselves by telling them.

Socialists will instinctively empathise with the dispossessed people represented in this work. But you'll feel more than pity: you'll be engaged and will want to know more.

The show will travel on to other places around the world before returning home to Istanbul. Go and see it before it does.


Until 7 May