Köçek Dance Floor

Mona Mahall (Germany) and Asli Serbest (Turkey) m-a-u-s-e-r

Alt Art Space

“The köçek, a young male dancer, performing to mostly male audiences at the Ottoman court from the 16th to the 19th century… would use diverse elements of costume and self-design, including long, tiered skirts or loose pants (şalvar), shimmies, colorful silks, jewelry, make up, and long hair, to enhance his beauty… This ‘pretty boy’ was a part of precolonial Islamic cultures that tolerated ambiguous social and cultural forms; above all, more gender forms, also with different temporalities, than the masculine-feminine binary of European human design. Normal in Ottoman culture, the köçek appeared shockingly deviant to European observers. Ultimately, the köçek was reframed according to European norms of gender and sexuality. He became a morally offensive figure of the deviant Orient.” –MM, AS


Köçek Dance Floor presents the practices, spaces, costumes, objects, and music of the köçek, the young male dancer of Ottoman times. Evading traditional categorizations of gender, the figure of the köcek is a reminder of how the Western understanding of sexuality was imported onto pre-colonial Islamic societies during 19th c. modernization. Composed of a series videos around a dance floor, the installation creates an open and ambiguous environment that invites visitors to mobilize their bodies.