Exhibition on display in the Aga Khan Museum Permanent Gallery, June – November 2022

These four videos feature footage captured by Hakan Topal on research trips to Birecik, Turkey, a town located at the Syrian-Turkish border. Combining documentary film footage of the ibises with an epic poem and bird calls, the videos reflect on the story of these caged birds and the metaphorical connections to wider issues of migration and self-determination.

Without you,
the earth is bare
and overexposed

The Northern Bald Ibis (kelaynak in Turkish) is the most threatened migratory bird in the Middle East. Once widespread throughout Afro-Eurasia, this species was considered sacred in Antiquity. Today, hunting, habitat loss, pesticide poisoning and regional conflict have left only two colonies surviving in the wild. In 2010, one colony that migrates between northeast Africa and the Turkish-Syrian border faced extinction due to human conflict. In 2016, the Kelaynak Reproduction Center in Birecik, Turkey—which has kept a small population in semi-captivity since the 1970s—decided not to release the birds from their cages during the migratory season. The official aim was to protect them; the result was a profound disturbance of their fundamental instincts and habits.

The Golden Cage is a meditation on the plight of these endangered birds. For artist Hakan Topal, the kelaynak is an emblem of broader ruptures in ancient ecologies and local cultures. His installation pairs video footage of the kelaynak in its regional surroundings with an epic poem composed in the voice of its official “guardians”. In doing so, The Golden Cage invites you to reflect on the connections between these caged birds and issues of migration, territory, environment, and agency.

Is what happened
to you my fault?
My people wanted it.

Mediterranean/Black Sea Flyway.

Migratory routes of wild birds in the Middle East and North Africa.

Click here for a 3D virtual tour of The Golden Cage.

My boundary.
My law.
My story.

A creative text inspired by The Golden Cage by Jason Pine, Professor of Media Studies and Anthropology (Purchase College, State University of New York). Professor Pine’s research focuses on people’s everyday pursuits of personal sovereignty in alternative economies and alternative ecologies.

You are
at my
home now