Latif Demirci




Latif Demirci is probably aware that the world, and especially the people he draws are not quite similar to the world and people we call “authentic” or “real’. Anyway, I don’t think he is very uncomfortable with this fact. He may be explaining this discrepancy with the shortcomings of the “authentic” world. If the similarities were greater, he would have to draw differently.

When I consider cartoonists, I usually see a distinction between the grown-ups and kids.
For me, the classical example of the former is Daumier. He reinterprets the familiar forms of the grown-up world with an equally grown-up sense of humour. On the other hand, the greatest cartoonist of the “kids” category is Charles Dickens.

My opinion is not discredited in the least by the fact that Dickens probably had not drawn a single cartoon in his life; he had become a verbal cartoonist through a series of coincidences. When he describes somebody who appears in a mere couple of sentences in the hundreds of pages of David Copperfield, he says “he had legs so long that he looked like the afternoon shadow of somebody else”. Now, this is what I call a cartoon.

The world looks fresh to the child’s eye. Everything is novel, and that eye does not look for relationships between things that are appropriate to the grown-up’s mind. With an astonishing naturalness, it grasps the most heretic, the most self-exaggerated, the most striking idiosyncrasy. It may be, say, a big, beak-like nose. The nose immediately predominates the rest, it shapes the rest in its own image. A big, stuffed chair becomes the genie from Aladdin’s lamp, a grand piano, the dragon St. George thrashed.

I think Latif Demirci draws his cartoons in this latter category. In fact, the term “drawing” is misleading in this sense. These people see cartoons when they look at the world, then draw them – the cartoon is created not in the process of drawing, but before.

Every “kid’, however, is a kid existing within a definite “here and now”. I know that Latif Demirci spent his childhood in Istanbul, Altimermer.

This district possesses one of the big, open Byzantine cisterns which gives the district its name (Altimermer: Marble-bottom). This cistern, which had turned into a picturesque garden, was probably a source of endless adventure in this neighborhood where the children played and grew up in the street. Life in these neighborhoods are somehow rough and pretty tough. Latif must have transferred to his later years an accumulation of a sense of reality from here – a reality with little lacework and furbelow, incessantly feeding the five senses with numerous sharp sensations.

In the childhood years of Latif Demirci, the poverty in Istanbul’s outer neighborhoods was not a humiliating, intimidating poverty. The introverted neighborhood dreamt of things it did not possess only with a fairytale-like sensibility. Since there were few riches to share, lack was shared – without being quite aware that it was a lack. I think that what Latif brings today from his past is a boldness, a disregard for what is sacred.

“Sacredness” is something that is constructed in the upper echelons in Turkey’s life, and injected, or intended to be injected– in the lower strata. Each class, ideology or way of life has usually contradicting sacrednesses, and these have taken semi-taboo qualities. The more people live in close contact with “the establishment’, the more built-in these taboos become. Maybe not exactly “built-in”; maybe it is more like being aware of and not tampering with, not considering and going around.

Latif Demirci, however, is a man with a glint in his eye. Especially, when he is confronted with something somebody holds sacred, this glint comes to life with the accompanying start of a grin at the corner of his mouth. These are the hints that Latif has seen the joke in what’s going on, and started to draw the cartoon in his mind.

These people are impossible to restrain.

As a matter of fact, all humour is about not coming into line.

The joke Latif Demirci sees in the world and in people is not timid, nor is it bitter. He has learned many things the upper classes try to ignore, try to make invisible if they cannot wipe out entirely; things like stinking feet or the ring around the collar, as a part of everyday life. He is not fond of them actually, nor he tries to reduce reality to these things. But he does not have a genteel disgust for them. We cannot keep ourselves from emphasing some “sublime” values when discoursing about the “universality of humanity”. Latif does not have a serious objection to this; only, he wants to play fair with the pimple, the itch and the bad tooth in these conceptions of universality. He knows that if universality exists in this world, it consists not only of the sublime but also of the banal.

In fact he knows a lot. This is why his smile is wise as well as childlike (even Hegel would have conceded that wisdom should include a childlike quality). He makes fun, he cannot afford not to. But he does not exclude what he makes fun of, he also loves it. Maybe this is why he draws cartoons: To save himself from the fate of not loving the world.

Latif Demirci worked non-stop. He partook in the adventures of a lot of magazines; he took part in teamwork, while developing his individual talent. He made different sallies while holding onto his basic framework he acquired quite early in life. For instance, he created the unforgettable character of “Muhlis Bey”, while poking the new urban intelligentsia with his brush.

It appears that he is influenced by world painting in his new phase in which I didn’t have the opportunity to follow his work closely. We have many legendary images, engraved in our minds from the peasants being fed potatoes by Van Gogh to the ballerinas being forced to perform ambitious figures by Degas. Nowadays, Latif is interested in these.

His interest immediately leads me to the conclusion that he has glimpsed some shortcomings in these artists and their work. The main shortcoming is probably that these people have never been in Altimermer. And this also points to an important shortcoming of Altimermer: People like these have not painted what goes on there. Seeing this double
shortcoming, Latif gets to work as a responsible person and, in his own -apt- term, translates/interprets the paintings. Our history boosts of magazines such as “Tercüman-ı Ahval” (Interpreter of Affairs) and “Tercüman-ı Efkâr” (Interpreter of Ideas); why not a book, “Tercüman-ı Eskal” (Interpreter of Images)?

How can we, adults who have grown up with sacred concepts, dare roughly dragging the glorious mynheer Rembrandt into Altimermer? But Latif as a naughty kid of the streets has no such inhibitions. Apparently he grew a liking for Uncle Rambant, and convinced him to come into the neighborhood and paint Hüseyin Efendi for a change.

At first sight, these sui generis “reproductions” or “copies” seem to include an effort of adaptation and localization. The figures of Bazille enjoying themselves at the stream have, as such, taken their place in the world’s collective memory, are per se universalized. Now, don’t we take them to the local from the universal when we take them downhill Kocamustafapasa to Samatya shore? Maybe so. Then again, maybe not. Because they themselves are local in the first place. When they were sunbathing by the Seine, other people were sunbathing on the Samatya shore. The latter were cheated out of the right to be painted – they had already spent their lives in deprivation, without even knowing what deprivation was.

So Latif translates these French youths, and all the others, into Altimermer reality. The card players deal out another hand in Arapkir coffee house; Matisse’s woman scratches her leg Cerrahpasa style this time; Ishak, son of butcher Ibrahim from Haseki, tries not to kick around out of fear from his father; the potential bum-boy from Davutpasa lays his butts bare when alone at home. When all these happen in the neighborhood, Latif has a glint in his eye, a start of grin at the corner of his mouth.



Luncheon of the Boating Party
Kayık Partisinde Öğle Yemeği /


Çeviren Kapak

Screen Shot 2022 06 08 at 19 51 31

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