Off-White Tulips (Kırık Beyaz Laleler) – A Short Film by Aykan Safoğlu (2013)

Aykan Safoğlu’s essay film Off-White Tulips is conceived as a fictional dialogue with the queer African-Amercian author and artist James Baldwin, which focuses on Baldwin’s stay in Istanbul. Safoğlu layers images, subtitles and figures that splice together an associative narrative, linking Baldwin’s identity and biography with the narrator’s personal history. Following that method of creating intersections between people, their biographies, places, and things, Cana Bilir-Meier and Madeleine Bernstorff compile an atlas of figures taken from Off-White Tulips that retains the film’s associative narrative but also unfolds an independent reading. Unless otherwise specified, the following quotations are direct film quotes from the subtitles of Off-White Tulips. The text Off-White Tulips (Kırık Beyaz Laleler) was first published in the exhibition catalogue PINK LABOR ON GOLDEN STREETS Queer Art Practices. [1]

»Biomythography is the weaving together of myth, history and biography in epic narrative form, a style of composition that represents all the ways in which we perceive the world!«Ted Warburton

African-American writer James Baldwin was born in 1924 in New York. From 1961 to 1971, he spent periods of time in Istanbul. Aykan Safoğlu, born in 1984 in Istanbul, intertwines narratives of Baldwin’s visits and his childhood memories of the city. Baldwin says to his Kurdish colleague Yaşar Kemal: »I feel free in Turkey.« Kemal answers: »Jimmy, that’s because you’re an American.«

The filmmaker narrates images by Istanbul-based photographer Sedat Pakay, who documented Baldwin’s stay, and pictures taken from the Safoğlu family archive, thus relating to Baldwin and Istanbul. Safoğlu was especially inspired by Magdalena Zaborowska’s book James Baldwin’s Turkish Decade: Erotics of Exile (2009). In his Turkish-language voiceover, Safoğlu subtly reflects on society. Safoğlu talks to Baldwin in a dialogue, [2] differentiating processes, thoughts, and discrepancies, complementing the others. [3] Safoğlu also talks to his own family, specifying regimes of racism, class, migration, hegemonic historiography, and popular culture. This specific form of memories within histories illustrates that histories are very often a mere product of cultural appropriation. [4] Agents of popular culture and politics relate to each other. Objects such as photos and stars determine the era, as well as the camera: they became autonomous and the film’s protagonists, through images, which are placed over, next to, and above each other. Baldwin moved to Istanbul to distance himself from discriminatory US policies. Nevertheless he also experienced discrimination in Turkey.

The film Off-White Tulips (Kırık Beyaz Laleler) does not aim at a retrospective perspective nor a specific truth regarding its protagonists, Safoğlu calls it »biomythography.« Author Audre Lorde quotes Ted Warburton here: »Biomythography is the weaving together of myth, history, and biography in epic narrative form, a style of composition that represents all the ways in which we perceive the world!« [5] Biographies are reinterpreted and defined anew through the usage of a specific frame, defined point of view, point in time and perspective, thus becoming fiction. The following text sketches the film’s topi and actors and cites Safoğlu’s personal and poetic questioning address to Baldwin.

ISTANBUL, »You explained that you felt more comfortable here as a black gay man. You felt less oppressed.« [6] A city that slowly forgets its history. »A place where I can find out again – who I am – and what I must do. […] A place where I can stop and do nothing in order to start again. To begin again demands a certain silence, a certain privacy that is not, at least for me, to be found elsewhere.« [7] Istanbul is turned into a very special place, but for him exiles are tainted, as »there are no untroubled countries.« [8] Turkey was caught in heavy political weather – the military coup – and Baldwin’s good friend Yaşar Kemal was even arrested.

JAMES BALDWIN, 1924 (New York/USA) – 1987 (Saint-Paul de Vence/France), African-American writer and civil rights activist. »You see, I had left America after the funeral [of Malcolm X] and gone to Istanbul. Worked – or tried to – there.« [9] He wrote novels, poems, dramas, and film scripts. Between 1961 and 1971 Baldwin traveled several times to Istanbul. »You were jaded and in search for a way out. […] Maybe you were dreaming of an order that can hold everyone together regardless of race.« Young Baldwin worked as preacher and later broke his tie with the church. He regarded Islam in Turkey neutrally. He engaged himself in the civil rights movement and fought against everyday and institutionalized racism in American society.

AYKAN SAFOĞLU, born in Istanbul 1984, artist and filmmaker, has lived in Berlin since 2008.

PHOTOS, the film’s montage works through photos that are placed over, next to, and under each other. »To be able to understand you and this country that did your writing good, I’d like to have a closer look at your photographs.«

BERLIN, the place where Safoğlu partly shoots and edits the film.

SEDAT PAKAY, 1945 (Istanbul/Turkey) – 2016 (Hudson/USA). A filmmaker and photographer, who lived in New York. Pakay documents Baldwin’s stays in Istanbul from 1964 onward. In 1970 he shoots the 16 mm, black-and-white short film From Another Place. The images are cornerstones of the film. Pakay becomes a close friend of Baldwin. »Baldwin rented a house in the middle of Istanbul. I said let’s do [the film] here. A good friend who did feature films had his own camera. [This person might be Ömer Kavur.] The very first morning, the maid answered the door and I asked where Mr. Baldwin was; and she said he’s sleeping. I said to the cameraman, ›Let’s go into the bedroom.‹ We barged into his room as he was waking. We finished filming, and I couldn’t take it out because Turkey had very strict rules about exporting film. You had to go through a censor board and government agencies. The film sat in my family’s apartment [and] my clever uncle found a way to get this film out. It came to my apartment in New York City.« [10]

MAGDALENA J. ZABOROWSKA wrote in 2009 about Baldwin’s stay in Istanbul in James Baldwin’s Turkish Decade. The cultural scientist revealed how influential the local people, culture, and friends in Istanbul were to Baldwin’s life. She described how his time there made him reflect his self-conception as a Black_Queer_Writer, how he perceived his American identity in regard to regimes of racism anew.

»White people are not literally or symbolically white, yet they are called white. What does this mean?«Richard Dyer

THE CAMERA, which has a malfunctioning white balancing. »Anyway … there won’t be a certain white balance setting for this film.« Film critic Richard Dyer discusses in White how to make the representation of whiteness in Western visual culture invisible, especially film and painting: »White people are not literally or symbolically white, yet they are called white. What does this mean?« [11] And in 1976 James Baldwin researched in his essay »The Devil Finds Work« the identity-creating supplies through American mainstream cinema in the (post-) McCarthy era: »The slimy depths to which the bulk of White Americans allowed themselves to sink: noisily, gracelessly, flatulent and foul with patriotism.«

THE PARTY in Istanbul in 1970 at which Baldwin gets to know his friends Gülriz Sururi, Bülent Erbaşar, and Oktay Balamir with whom he spends quite a bit of time. »Immediately you felt warmth for these otherwise distant people.«

ISTANBUL, DEC 10, 1961, the day on which Baldwin finishes his novel Another Country, which has worn him out. »In this distant city, no one wanted to interview him, no one was pressing him for social prophecy. He knew few people. He couldn’t speak the language. There was time to work. He stayed for two months, and he was at another party – Baldwin would always find another party – calmly writing at a kitchen counter covered with glasses and papers and hors d’oeuvres, when he put down the final words of Another Country [12]

AVNİ SALBAŞ, an African-Turk and close friend of Baldwin. Salbaş perceived blackness differently to Baldwin and defined himself and his family as Arabs from the South. »The villagers who took the frail American black man under their wing and all of Baldwin’s Turkish friends referred to him as ›Arab Jimmy.‹ […] As much as the term connotes someone of foreign ethic and geographic origins, it does not, as Cezzar, Leeming, and others assured me, connote references to blackness and essentialized racial difference in the same way that ›Negro‹ or ›African‹ and ›black‹ or even ›of color‹ do in American culture.« [13] In 1960 Baldwin sends a postcard to Avni and Oya Salbaş: »In memory of your great welcoming. In fact, the very greatest in my life – my love. James Baldwin.«

ENGİN CEZZAR, 1935 (Istanbul/Turkey) – 2017 (Istanbul/Turkey), actor. In 1963 he staged Shakespeare’s Othello, the first director to stage it for a larger Turkish audience. Cezzar became a close friend of Baldwin and with Gülriz Sururi spent time with him. Cezzar played the lead in Giovanni’s Room (1956), which is based on Baldwin’s novel and premiered in New York. »In 1961, a weary and uncentered James Baldwin unexpectedly showed up at the doorstep of the young Turkish actor Engin Cezzar, whom he had befriended years before in New York. Cezzar was Baldwin’s choice to play Giovanni in a Broadway adaptation of Giovanni’s Room, an adaptation that came to nothing.« [14]

GÜLRİZ SURURİ, She lived with Engin Cezzar. »Could this young acting couple and their artist (actor) friends […] take you away from New York? […] How far could you ran away from the U.S.?«



TIME MAGAZINE COVER: on May 17, 1963, Baldwin was on TIME magazine’s cover. The racist and discriminating headline read »The Negros Push for Equality.« »It put him on the cover of TIME Magazine in 1963: the May 17 issue. […] And in a few weeks, when the magazine with his face on it was already dated, Baldwin’s friend Medgar Evers would be murdered on the driveway of his home in Jackson, Mississippi.« [15]

BEAUFORD DELANEY, 1901 (Tennessee/USA) – 1970 (Paris/France), African-American artist/painter, a close friend of Baldwin. He visits Baldwin in Istanbul and draws some portraits of him. Baldwin introduces Gülriz to Delaney and he paints a portrait of her. »The pressures of being ›black and gay in a racist and homophobic society‹ would have been difficult enough – but Delaney’s own Christian upbringing and ›disapproval‹ of homosexuality, the presence of a family member (his artist-brother Joseph) in the New York art scene and the ›macho‹ Abstract Expressionists emerging in lower Manhattan’s art scene added to this pressure.« [16] Delaney is like an older brother for Baldwin, and turns into his »spiritual father.« When Delaney dies, Baldwin says: »The first living proof, for me, that a black man could be an artist. […] Perhaps I should not say, flatly, what I believe – that he is a great painter – among the very greatest; but I do know that great art can only be created out of love, and that no greater lover has ever held a brush.« [17]

ZENCİ, stems from the Farsi word zangī, meaning »rusty.« »With their language revealing and feeding other discriminations they probably didn’t know how to define you. Zenci stands in Arabic for dark-skinned or African. It’s widely believed that this word in Ottoman Turkish originated from Arabic.«

ERDEK, city near Istanbul, on the Marmara Sea. Baldwin spent time there. Here he is brutally beaten by a stranger.

ELIJAH MUHAMMAD, 1897 (Washington/USA) – 1975 (Chicago/USA), American civil rights activist and founder of Nation of Islam. Baldwin meets Muhammad in Chicago. »Maybe you were trying to digest the dinner you had in Chicago with Elijah Muhammad, […] and his disciples in Istanbul.«

JAMES, Baldwin’s nephew. He had a very close relationship to his nephew, who lived in the United States. »You knew what it was to be a black child in the United States, what the fear meant. You remembered your adolescent years, the tension they created.«

»White Americans seem to feel that happy songs are happy and sad songs are sad.«

FIRE NEXT TIME, is a 1963 publication by Baldwin with two essays: »My Dungeon Shook – Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of Emancipation« and »Down at the Cross–Letter from a Region of My Mind.« He writes, »White Americans seem to feel that happy songs are happy and sad songs are sad.« The first essay is written as a letter addressing his nephew James, describing discrimination in American society. The second text is about discrimination and religion. Baldwin talks about his perspective of and experience with the church.

BIG BILL BROONZY, 1893–1958 (USA), African-American blues musician and composer. Safoğlu quotes the song »Letter to My Baby« (1952). Just as Baldwin does in Fire Next Time. Broonzy sings in Black, Brown and White about his experiences being an African-American and omnipresent racism: »If you’re black and gotta work for livin’, Now, this is what they will say to you, They say: If you was white, You’s alright, If you was brown, Stick around, But if you’s black, oh, brother, Get back, get back, get back. […] Me and a man was workin’ side by side, Now, this is what it meant: They was payin’ him a dollar an hour, And they was payin’ me fifty cent. They said: If you was white, You’d be alright, If you was brown, You could stick around, But as you’s black, oh, brother, Get back, get back, get back.«

BEBEK TEAHOUSE, a tea room in Istanbul’s Beşiktaş quarter. One of Sedat Pakay’s photo pictures Baldwin with two waiters, deep in conversation.

ORHAN GENCEBAY, born in 1944 (Samsun/Turkey), singer, actor, known for his interpretations of Arabesque music. He sings in one of his songs: »Not a single flawless subject exists. Love me with my mistakes.« Gencebay is also referred to as Orhan Baba. »My father likes playing with his rosary and smoking too. Sometimes he sounds like Orhan Baba.« Safoğlu places in this scene an image of his father next to one from Gencebay.

MARLON BRANDO, 1924 (Omaha/USA) – 2004 (Los Angeles/USA), American actor, a friend of Baldwin. He is pictured in one image sitting with Baldwin at Restaurant Urcan. Brando used his celebrity status to voice and criticize socially relevant themes in the United States. He was a supporter of the civil rights movement of African-Americans and the indigenous American Indian movement. In 1973 Brando declined his Academy Award for The Godfather and sent Sacheen Littlefeather, a Native American actress, to speak at the ceremony. Brando thus protested against racism against the indigenous people. In 1973 he also supported the occupation of Wounded Knee through the militant American Indian Movement. Brando criticized the presentation, treatment, and representation of indigenous people within the white film industry.

AYKAN SAFOĞLU’S PARENTS, »Have you ever met my father?« Most probably the parents met while walking on the Bosporus River. His father worked in the oil industry, in a venture owned by his father-in-law. Safoğlu’s father catered for Restaurant Urcan where James Baldwin and Marlon Brando met. The owner is a friend of Mr. Safoğlu.

THIS IS ISTANBUL in the 1960s. It has wide streets, which were used more and more by cars. »In those years the city faces rapid change.« Within one decade, from the beginning of the 1960s, the population grew from 1.4 million to 2.1 million. In 1960 Turkey saw its first military coup, against the Adnan Menderes government.

AYŞECİK, her civil name is Zeynep Değirmencioğlu, born in 1954 in Istanbul and a celebrated child actress in the 1960s. »While the peasant migrants tried to grasp the bitter city life, they met Ayşecik. Ayşecik was a kid hero who could retain her happiness despite malice.« Within two years, she played her first film role. Most films in which she acted carried her name in the title, for example: Ayşecik, the Poor Princess (Ayşecik Fakir Prenses, 1963) or Young Angel Ayşecik (Ayşecik Yavru Melek, 1962). »In movies, she had one after the other, oblivious to her childhood she was saving adults from many troubles. Poor but proud. Hungry but prudent.«

EMRAH, born in 1971 in Diyarbakır, singer, actor, and child celebrity with Kurdish descent, his civil name is Emrah Erdoğan.

SEZERCİK, born in 1967 in Istanbul, under the civil name Sezer İnanoğlu. He became a child celebrity at the age of four and currently works as director and actor in Turkey. »Then came Sezercik. That’s how the famous Could I call you mother? line was included in Turkish.« Sezercik continuously asks in all his films female co-protagonists whether he might call them mother. Very often in the scripts they actually became/were his mother, who had lost her son and was then happily reunited.

YUMURCAK, born in 1965, Istanbul, brother of Sezercik, child celebrity, civil name: İlker İnanoğlu.

»Although he didn’t look like the other kids in the hood, this orphan child could speak to the heart of Turkish people.«

ÖMERCİK, »Although he didn’t look like the other kids in the hood, this orphan child could speak to the heart of Turkish people.« Born in 1959 in Istanbul, civil name: Ömer Dönmez. When young he was a Turkish celebrity, due to his blond/golden hair.

THE POSTCARD OF A BLONDE CHILD, which in the 1970s could be found in almost every Turkish household. »As if this blonde trouble boy were adopted by everyone.«

ISTANBUL at the end of the 1970s, an oil tanker explodes on the Bosporus. Baldwin leaves Istanbul. »In those years the population of urban blonde women was increasing. I guess, it was around that time when the first oil tanker exploded on the Bosporus.«

AJDA PEKKAN, born in 1946 in Istanbul, famous pop singer and actress. Her song »Petrol« (1980) uses oil as metaphor for love. She enters the 1980 Eurovison Song Contest with »Aman Petrol« and ends up second to last. Four years later, Aykan Safoğlu is born. One of the film’s pictures shows Aykan’s mother with dyed blonde hair, wearing high heels, and pregnant with Aykan, smiling at the camera.

ISTANBUL in the 1980s: »My family’s oil business went bankrupt and the empty tankers turned into my playground.«

AYÇA SAFOĞLU, Aykan Safoğlu’s older sister.

AYKUT SAFOĞLU, Aykan Safoğlu’s older brother.

AY, means moon.

»Because being tan was hip in my childhood, every summer my sister got darker. And I look as La Toya gets whiter on the posters.«

LA TOYA JACKSON, born in 1956 in Gary/USA, American pop star, member of the Jackson clan. »Because being tan was hip in my childhood, every summer my sister got darker. And I look as La Toya gets whiter on the posters.« The children’s room of Aykan’s siblings is completely covered with posters. Some depict Madonna and a Marlboro advertisement. »My sister’s getting darker as La Toya gets whiter was preoccupying my mind.«

NEDİM (1681–1730), a poet from the Tulip Age, known for his poems on Istanbul. »I would sacrifice all Persia for one of your stones, is what the most famous poet of the Tulip Age Nedim said about Istanbul.«

TULIP AGE, an era in Turkish history (1718–1730). »The Golden Age of the Ottomans, also called the Tulip Age, also called the Tulip Age, ended with the insurgency of the oppressed classes. The tulips went from Istanbul to Amsterdam and became Europeanized.«

AYKAN SAFOĞLU’S SCHOOL FRIENDS. One photo depicts Aykan with his classmates from different social classes from Istanbul, in the classroom. He plays the lead in a stage play at school and performs a text in front of his class. The film shows a woman walking over a bed of tulips, destroying them.

A WOMAN DESTROYING TULIPS, on May 1, 1996, three left-wing protesters were killed and thirty-three policemen injured. For quite some time, Turkish media didn’t understand the anger of the woman whose frustration was taken out on the flowers, because one of her friends had been killed in the afternoon by the police. The year 1996 marked the peak of Kurdish resistance – in Turkey as well as Europe. [18]

ACEMİ in Arabic means: a person who only knows Arabic languages very superficially. In Turkish it means inexperienced.

JOHN HERBERT was a Canadian stage writer and director. In 1970 Baldwin staged Herbert’s play Fortune and Men’s Eyes: about young men in an Istanbul prison. »You the Acemi of Istanbul, directed a play there too. It was John Herbert’s play and took place in a prison. It was about sexual exploitation and homosexuality. A critique of the modern western societies […] You are sitting there, watching the actors form Istanbul, who are inexperienced in representing Canadians. It was not easy to translate the heavy gay jargon into Turkish.«

DALLAS is an internationally exported popular American television series (1978–91) about the imagined bourgeois white, oil-industrialist Ewing family. The program is centered on the main character J. R. Ewing. As a child Safoğlu watches the dubbed series and disappointingly realized in his teens that the American family doesn’t speak a single word of Turkish.

PETER GABRIEL’S »THE FEELING BEGINS« is a song from his album Passion (1989): »Why were all the TV pictures of the first Gulf War always accompanied by the same music? […] Wasn’t this touchy music in the background of the war scenery an Armenian melody?«



A LETTER FROM THE TURKISH MILITARY to Aykan Safoğlu. »This is the envelope of the last mail that came to my address in Istanbul. Sent by the Turkish Armed Forces it included a medical report stating my exemption from military service.«

THE FICTION CERTIFICATE is a German document declaring a provisional residence permit. »Initially I didn’t understand when the German Government handed me this document «

RAKI, a Turkish alcoholic beverage, also called »lion’s milk.« Often water is added and the color changes to a broken nuance of white. Safoğlu’s father likes his with a shot of water and ice cubes. »At the dining table where you sat across the Bosporus … you were only drinking wine. You don’t drink rakı as my father did. Rakı has no color. My mum drinks it dry. My father takes double shots with water.«

THE DREAM, »Drunk with rakı , I had weird dreams one night.« In this dream, various characters and objects of the film begin a surreal dialogue, change the narrated plot, and weave it anew. Marlon Brando refuses the award and sends in Ajda Pekkan as speaker. Instead of photos, drawings are used and are placed above, next to, and under each other. »After her thank you speech, Ajda starts singing like Aman Petrol, my heart petrol […] At that moment a patriot hits the stage and Oscars turns into Eurovision. There the audience appears. You are among them. […] In the end Marlon ›Father‹ was the king of Arabesque.«

BERLIN, MARCH 1, 2013, Safoğlu finishes the film. »The idea that one has to write, almost as a virtual obligation, also reminds us of the very many spaces where we are voiceless. Spaces we usually cannot enter, and which have to ›be interrupted, appropriated, and transformed through artistic and literary pace.‹« [19] , Münster 2005.)

KIRIK BEYAZ means not really white, but rather cream, beige, off-white; kırık is also a synonym for gay or queer.


Translated from the German by Tanja Cukalac


We would like to thank Cana Bilir-Meier and Madeleine Bernstorff, Christiane Erharter, Dietmar Schwärzler, Ruby Sircar, Hans Scheirl, The Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, and Sternberg Press for the generous permission to republish Off-White Tulips (Kırık Beyaz Laleler) – A Short Film by Aykan Safoğlu (2013) on Schlosspost.

Cana Bilir-Meier lives and works in Munich (DE) and Vienna (AT). She studied digital media/art and film and art education at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and at Sabancı University in Istanbul (TR). She works as a filmmaker and artist and in art and culture education projects. Her filmic, performative, and text-based works move at the interfaces between archival work, text production, historical research, and contemporary media reflexivity or archaeology.

Madeleine Bernstorff is a Berlin-based film programmer, writer, and teacher, exploring the cinema of avant-garde, migration and resistance movements, as well as early cinema in research-based, feminist oriented and mostly collaborative projects. She teaches film history to art students. She was on the selection committee of the International Short Film Festival in Oberhausen. 2016/17 SPOTS: short video spots mobilizing against the rightwing structural racism/NSU-Complex:



  1. Jump Up Christiane Erharter, Dietmar Schwärzler, Ruby Sircar & Hans Scheirl, eds.: PINK LABOR ON GOLDEN STREETS Queer Art Practices, Berlin 2016.
  2. Jump Up This text was conceived in dialogue as well, conducted via e-mail between Cana Bilir-Meier, Aykan Safoğlu, and Madeleine Bernstorff
  3. Jump Up Leah Bretz and Nadine Lantzsch: Queer_Feminismus: Label & Lebensrealität, Münster 2003.
  4. Jump Up It must be mentioned that history is always multifaceted, has various positions, and is nonexplicit. See Leah Bretz and Nadine Lantzsch: Queer_Feminismus: Label & Lebensrealität, Münster 2003, p, 7.
  5. Jump Up Ted Warburton, in: »About Biomythography,« Biomyth, blog,
  6. Jump Up Unless specified otherwise the following quotations are direct film quotes from the subtitles of Off-White Tulips
  7. Jump Up Anna Clark, »Beginning Again: James Baldwin in Istanbul,« in: Isak, blog, August 27, 2012,
  8. Jump Up Magdalena Zaborowska: James Baldwin’s Turkish Decade: Erotics of Exile, Durham 2009, p. 16.
  9. Jump Up Clark, Beginning Again.
  10. Jump Up Sedat Pakay, interview by Robin Lindley: »Social Critic James Baldwin’s Hidden Side Surfaces at NW African American Museum,« in: Crosscut, December 26, 2012,
  11. Jump Up Richard Dyer: White, London 1996.
  12. Jump Up Clark: Beginning Again.
  13. Jump Up Zaborowska: James Baldwin’s Turkish Decade, p. 13.
  14. Jump Up Clark: Beginning Again.
  15. Jump Up Ibid.
  16. Jump Up Caryn E. Neumann: »Delaney, Beauford, 1901–1979,« An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender & Queer Culture,«
  17. Jump Up James Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction, 1948–1985, New York 1985.
  18. Jump Up See »Chronologie: 28 Jahre Kurdenkonflikt,« Arte Journal, August 15, 2012,,CmC=6869420.html.
  19. Jump Up Grada Kilomba: »Becoming a Subject,« in: Mythen Subjekte Masken, Maureen Mausha Eggers et al. (eds.