Arts & Culture

Sabiha Çimen: “l wanted to open the doors of my world”

Introducing Sabiha Çimen’s new work ‘Transfiguration: The Double Life of Şeyma’. The collection of 55 images is created as a series of NFTs that are being minted to the blockchain today.

Sabiha Çimen

Sabiha Çimen A ritual of lead-pouring for Şeyma. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos

The latest collection of work in the partnership between Magnum Photos and Obscura is available now. Sabiha Çimen’s ‘Transfiguration: The Double Life of Şeyma’ has been created as a collection of Non Fungible Tokens (NFTs). Here, we share the photos from the project and an interview between Çimen and Obscura Journal Contributor Danielle Ezzo.

In the interview – which can be read here – Çimen relates that she met Şeyma when working on her Hafiz project about Turkey’s girls-only Qur’an schools. She explains that upon graduation from the Qur’an school Şeyma chose to take off her headscarf, only putting it back on around family. This tension between contemporary culture and Muslim tradition in Turkey, as encapsulated by Şeyma’s “dual life”, is the driving force of this new work. Çimen explains to Ezzo that she sees Şeyma’s duality as a kind of resistance to cultural norms, with the work also exploring the rituals and traditions that are threaded through Turkish culture.

Sabiha Çimen Şeyma lying on a tree at a summertime picnic event organized by her Quran School. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Prayers waiting for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s speech, leading the Friday praying on the day of Hagia Sophia church becoming a mosque.  Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen A room with no T.V. signal. Rize, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen A group of men watching a street fight. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Passing a forbidden field. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen An overlooks the Islamic head-scarf ban from working in the public sector between 1997 to 2017. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Urban Transformation in Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen A Kurdish wedding in Adıyaman, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen A young rapper. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Şeyma (right) with her sister. She likes to uncover her lips and use lipstick. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Pamukkale Travertines. Denizli, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Şeyma relaxes and releases after the ritual of lead-pouring. Molybdomancy ‘Kurşun dökme’ is mostly done for people with mental struggles such as psychic crises and nervousness. According to ancient (...)
Sabiha Çimen The intestine of the sacrificed animal. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Şeyma, uncovered, lying on a red carpet. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Şeyman on the dragon boat with her friends. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen As an ancient tradition and also prophet Mohammad’s recommendation leeches sucking the blood takes away all the impurity from the blood. Believers still follow his way today. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Scissor sharpener. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen A young boy sitting after circumcision. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen A Kurdish wedding in Adıyaman, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Şevval and Zeze sisters. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Birds flying over a construction. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen A man lighting his cigarettes against the wind in Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Şeyma is in Komando stairs with her friends in Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Şeyma is lighting her cigarettes. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen The intestine of a sacrificed animal. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Mustafa, in his home, implemented leeches on his face to follow the prophet Muhamad’s tradition. As an ancient tradition and also prophet Mohammad’s recommendation leeches sucking the blood takes a (...)
Sabiha Çimen Frozen tree branches in Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen A women bather in Ottoman Hamam. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Newly engaged couples in the field. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Şeyma with her blue wig. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen A man sleeping in a historical fountain from the Ottoman period in Istanbul. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Sisters doing taekwondo. Istanbul, Turkey © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Şeyma and her friends having fun with a melon. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen As an ancient tradition and also prophet Mohammad’s recommendation leeches sucking the blood takes away all the impurity from the blood and it has lots of benefits for the human body. Istanbul, Tur (...)
Sabiha Çimen Shadow of a chicken. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen A young Syrian boy jumps into the Marmara sea on a hot summer day to keep himself cool. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Sisters doing taekwondo. Istanbul, Turkey © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Molybdomancy, molten lead. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Sare (right) and Şeyma (left) sisters. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Shade of a tree and a black cat. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Tailor Muazzez, skiing on snow with the help of street guys. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen A ritual of lead-pouring for Şeyma. Molybdomancy ‘Kurşun dökme’ is mostly done for people with mental struggles such as psychic crises and nervousness.  According to ancient rituals, molten lead he (...)
Sabiha Çimen Şeyma in the flipped room. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen A young girl called Leyla’s mother tying her hair before she goes to a taekwondo lesson. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen A ritual of lead-pouring for Şeyma. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Bloody land left after a ritual sacrifice animal. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Sare (left) and Şeyma (right) sisters in Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen A simit seller in Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Dog in a plastic basin. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Sare (right) and Şeyma (left), sisters, hanging out on Galata bridge. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen A monkey on a balcony in Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen Sisters in on a ferry wearing their fine dresses for the sugar feast. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Sabiha Çimen My father, at his pomegranate tree. Istanbul, Turkey. © Sabiha Çimen | Magnum Photos
Women guide interpreting the meaning of the formed hardened-shapes to Şeyma. Istanbul, Turkey.

Çimen also provided the following statement about the project:

The impetus of this project grew out of my first book Hafız, about young girls who are memorizing the Quran in schools throughout Turkey. Some marry and have children soon after graduation, but some rebel and transform themselves in a radical way; Şeyma is one of those stories of Transfiguration.

This is a world known to me because l too studied in a Quran school with my twin sister in Istanbul when I was younger. When l returned to do my first long-term photographic project l sought out as familiar scenes and objects from my memory there and it was there that I met Şeyma and her unique and radical ways.

My projects usually deal with the Art of Resistance within my close circle of friends and family. In my last project the young girls’ trivialities and playfulness took center stage, and now as these girls enter into adulthood they are faced with living in a world of male dominance. Sometimes, as with Şeyma, there is a need for revenge with their new-found power over men and their money and habits; an inner strength coming from raw female intellect, and sexuality.

This time my project not only focuses on the girls’ stories, but lays within the context of a large city – Istanbul, with its multiple layers and meanings. l am trying to provide the viewer cause and effect by viewing the different strata simultaneously and between. In the story Şeyma l am portraying her world, her fantasies, her fears, hidden love stories, songs and signs, ancient traditions, religious black-outs, and her continued spirituality that was never lost even through her Transfiguration.

View the full collection of Sabiha Çimen’s Obscura Magnum Commission here.

The full interview can be read here.

To learn more about the Magnum Photos and Obscura commissions, and see the list for future releases, please click here.

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