Critic's Guide: Istanbul

Women and the body take centre stage: a round-up of the best current shows in the city

BY Nazli Gurlek in Critic's Guides | 27 OCT 16

Nil Yalter, Harem, 1979, black and white video still. Courtesy: Arter - Space for Art, Istanbul 

Nil Yalter
Arter - Space for Art
14 October - 15 January

Titled ‘Off the Record’, this solo exhibition is a belated presentation of Nil Yalter's bold body of work in Turkey. Yalter is a Cairo-born Turkish artist, a pioneer of the feminist movement of the 1970s who has lived in Paris since 1965. Participating in the French counter culture and revolutionary movement of the late 1960s, Yalter immersed herself in debates around gender, migrant workers from Turkey, and other issues of the time. She experimented freely in different media including drawing, photography, video, and performance art, merging documentary styles with poetic abstraction in order to explore lives and emotions of the 'unseen' members of society – labourers, women and immigrants – pushed to the margins by official histories or authorities. The show features 22 pieces, most of which date back to the 1970s, with a particular focus on recurring formal motifs and symbols addressing political subjects. A treat for the eye as well as the mind, variations through sociological explorations occur touching on issues of ethnicity, migration and identity.

Luna Ece Bal, My Secret Garden (detail), 2016, mixed media installation. Courtesy: the artist and SPACE DEBRIS, Istanbul

Luna Ece Bal
Space Debris
22 September  - 30 October

Young Paris-based Turkish artist Luna Ece Bal also deals with female identity in her first solo exhibition ‘I lift my lids and all is born again’. Curated by fellow artist Ali Emir Tapan, who ‘moulded the show around an imaginary Venus’, the show evokes the misty atmosphere of a Barbara Cartland-esque kitch romanticism where a combination of styles – witchcraft, alchemy and science – come together with cold, depersonalized digital aesthetics. Pearls, oysters, seashells, mirrors, sparkles, and silicone breasts, immersed in rock salt, wrapped in pink velvet or contained in tiny glass jars, create a sense of bloomy otherworldliness. Wallpaper extending over a large portion of the main gallery wall shows digital renderings of deconstructed parts of a young, naked female body. Common social media terms such as 'life event', 'live' and 'privacy' are sprinkled throughout and evoke a sense of tension, if not subordination. Is this a world for ladies  – virgin heroines – only, away from the male gaze? Or is it merely a repetition of the female as an idealized entity of a male fantasy? Is it possible to use the digital realm of social media to test out strategies of radical representation? Or does such a space only serve to consolidate desiring representation? These questions are only multiplied if one follows the artist's witty posts on her Instagram account, dirtywitchstudio.

Inci Eviner, ‘Who's Inside You?’, 2016, installation view, Istanbul Modern

Inci Eviner
Istanbul Modern
22 June - 27 November

Another of Turkey's courageous female artists, İnci Eviner, has a presentation mysteriously titled ‘Who's Inside You?’ With more than 200 works, including drawings, paintings, videos, installations, photography, and sculpture, this is a exceptional retrospective of Eviner's 40-year practice. Since the early years of her career in the late 1970s Eviner has developed a unique artistic language using drawing as her main medium to comment on issues related to body, societal roles, human rights, and the politics of identity within Turkish society, especially in relation to women. Her abject and surreal imagery comments on the historical, discursive, and unconscious processes that influence society's views of female identity. Non- chronological, the works are juxtaposed to reveal her concerns and thematics as they have appeared over the years, which in turn makes it possible to trace her entire practice as one coherent whole. It is rewarding to see, for instance, her video installation Harem (2009) next to her Darülaceze Drawings (1977) both of which depict imperfect bodies struggling to defy their given institutional settings.

Elif Uras, Rainbow, 2016, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 cm. Courtesy: Galerist, Istanbul; photograph: Chroma

Elif Uras
23 September - 6 November

Yet another current show in Istanbul by a woman artist talking about women. Featuring Elif Uras' latest works, this is her first solo exhibition in Turkey for seven years. The show scrutinizes women's place within society with the meaningful title, ‘Hayal Meyal’, a Turkish idiom that describes a state of indeterminacy between dreams and reality.  A series of oil paintings, and ceramic vessels and plates, present different instants of reproductive, domestic and wage labour in the lives of a female-only crowd. Women busy doing office work, cleaning, nursing and shopping appear against an ornamental mash-up which combines elegantly detailed, delicate brushwork with graffiti-like, expressionist patterns of spray paint. A niche, an element of Ottoman architecture, contains a series of vessels decorated with organic and geometric forms inspired by traditional ceramic art. The vessels allude to voluptuous figures with pregnant bellies and swollen breasts. The female body's powers of creation is punctuated throughout the exhibition with different motifs such as the spiral, as well as a functioning fountain – the show's real surprise – sitting in the centre of an interior courtyard including a wall of tiles and plants. The ceramics are made in İznik, an ancient town in Anatolia famous since the Ottoman Empire for its tile and ceramic production. Uras combines Islamic tradition with contemporary styles as an elegant yet poignant reminder of the cultural paradoxes that lie at the heart of contemporary Turkish society.

Deniz Gül, Loyelow Fields (detail), 4.5 x 3 m. Neon, powder sugar, concrete casts and sulphuric acid. Courtesy: The Pill, Istanbul; photograph: Chroma

Deniz Gül
The Pill
22 September - 20 November

This new gallery – opened last January in the historic district of Balat, the city's new bohemian quarter – is showing the latest work of Deniz Gül. Described as ‘a young boy’s stream of consciousness symbolized by an abstraction of a room filled with his dream belongings,’ the show is a new and  intimate example of the artist’s ongoing investigation into meaning, unconscious and the significance we attribute to objects. The result is poetic and captivating. Several objects are installed in combinations of ambiguous meaning: a chewed piece of gum under a magnifying glass, a rubber sink, Turkish tea glasses filled with rice on a round metal tray, gigantic glass leaf sculptures on an old trolley, a malfunctioning water hose, and blue, water-patterned ceramic tiles. A large, rather loose grouping of small concrete objects on the floor forms the centrepiece of the show. Toy cars, guns, neon lights, keyboards, remote controls, gloves, shoes etc. immersed in sulphuric acid and powder sugar make you wonder if someone was here before, playing with these objects before fleeing the room upon hearing you approaching. A video installation at the far end of the gallery features an equally dreamy sequence of events: a young man is standing still in what appears to be a construction area in the countryside, facing the sun. A digger slowly approaches him from behind and dusts him with soil. A golden rain of dust covers the screen for a few short seconds before the digger moves away to disappear again behind the mounds. What remains from the show is the feeling of being a guest in someone else's dream, and feeling welcome.

Hera Büyüktaşçıyan, Crooked Gate I, II and Threshold, 2016. Courtesy: Kasa Gallery, Istanbul; photograph: Chroma

Hera Büyüktaşçıyan & TUNCA
Kasa Gallery
7 September - 31 October

This collaborative exhibition by Hera Büyüktaşçıyan and TUNCA, ‘Because We are Here Where We Are Not’, at Sabanci University gallery inside the 1913 Greek Bank building Minerva Han, reveals their shared interest in place as a conveyor of memory. Although the two artists are collaborating for the first time there is a definite chemistry. They both use the door, both as architectural and symbolic element, using an approach that is visual yet conceptual at the same time. Büyüktaçıyan contours the doors inside the gallery space with blue, fluid-looking mosaics mimicking the mosaic border tiles on the building's façade. These fluid, melting looking gates alter our perception of architecture and history as a phenomena fixed and invariable. TUNCA presents a tryptic of large charcoal drawings of a mysterious brick architecture in spherical form with no entry points. The walls without doors in these drawings, based on water reservoirs for the Birkenau camp near Auschwitz, instead, point out restriction and constraint. A simple yet deep presentation that seems to ponder: what if we could see beyond the visible?

‘Replaced’, 2016, installation view, Rampa, Istanbul. From left: Hera Büyüktaşçıyan, The Missing Cuckoo, 2013, Michael Rakowitz, Return, 2009, Cansu Çakar, Rumi, 2016. Courtesy: Rampa, Istanbul; photograph: Chroma

28 September - 12 November

What is dispossession and what kinds of dispossessions are there? What can one be dispossesed of? And what might a group exhibition about dispossession look like? The answers are found in this clever and playful group exhibition backed by Judith Butler and Athena Athanasiou’s ideas on the term. A wide range of works, including video installations, drawings, sculptures, paintings and photographs, all in different ways document, explore or scrutinize various forms of  dispossession, and their replacement, not materially but in terms of emotional, social, sexual and political possession. A glass of rakı stands half-full, soon to be refilled. A bust is overcome by nature, mushrooms sprouting from it as if extensions of the skin. A surprise in the show is New York-based Vahap Avşar's metallic silver painting on tar paper. A postcard showing a little girl picking flowers in a field is glued against a dark, thick layer of asphalt. It stands as a reminder of things we have been dispossessed of: childhood and increasingly, our own environment.

Main image: Elif Uras, Pregnant Stroll, 2016, oil on linen, 140 x 197 cm. Courtesy: Galerist, Istanbul; photograph: Chroma

Nazli Gurlek is an independent curator, writer and artist and founder of UMA, an interdisciplinary platform for creative research and production rooted in ancient pagan traditions of Anatolia. She lives in Istanbul.