SALT Galata’s ‘From England with Love, İsmail Saray’ exhibition combines artwork and archival materials to tell the story of an under-recognized artist from Turkey
According to the curators of SALT Galata's "From England with Love" exhibition, İsmail Saray is an under-recognized talent. An internationally renowned Turkish artist with an impeccable reputation, Saray's career runs through four decades but like some of the best artists out there, he is better known among colleagues and art critics, and less by the general public. In a sense, Saray has long been "our man in Britain." Having graduated from London's art schools and made a name for himself in that city, he participated in numerous exhibitions, and was awarded art prizes numerous times, in Britain. Physical and cultural distance between his native and adapted countries is an important component of Saray's artistic vision. But he is also the quintessential Turkish contemporary artist, having worked in collaboration with Turkey's leading curators and artists since 1970s.
SALT Galata's "From England with Love, İsmail Saray" exhibition offers an engaging, multifaceted look at Saray's work. Realized by Duygu Demir and Sezin Romi with the assistance of Ayşe Köklü and Özge Karagöz, the exhibition takes us through Saray's life. We see drawings Saray had produced while at secondary school as well as his latest works dating from 2000s. Saray went to secondary school in Kütahya, where he attended painting classes at Kütahya Public Education Centre. At SALT Galata there is a picture of Saray taken during a class trip to the Aizanoi ruins. Also on display is the school yearbook of Kütahya Lisesi from 1965, the year of Saray's graduation. Upon his graduation Saray applied for the bursary offered by the state and was sent to London. He studied at Saint Martin's School of Art's Faculty of Fine Art and Sculpture from September 1969 to June 1970. I read the acceptance letter sent by the Royal College of Art's School of Sculpture where Saray took Master's Degree courses with interest. His Master of Arts degree, issued in 1973, is on display, as do dozens of bureaucratic letters concerning his repayment of the bursary to the Turkish state. Until 1980, when he left the country, Saray taught art in Samsun and participated in numerous exhibitions in Turkey and in Europe.
Displaying unearthed material from an artist's career is typical for an exhibition at SALT whose research department excels at archival research. Demir and Romi had been researching Saray's archives for the last two years. Romi told me how little archive material they had before starting this project. "There are very few texts, no books and no exhibition catalogues on İsmail Saray," she said. "There has been little information and very limited scholarship on Saray's practice. SALT has been researching the context of Saray's life and practice with the conviction that the artist holds a canonical place for Turkey's artistic and cultural environment during 1970s and early 1980s." The first phase of their research is introduced with this exhibition. Roni believes that this is "a unique presentation that combines artworks and archival material to tell the story of an under-recognized artist from Turkey."
"From England with Love, İsmail Saray" is the culmination of a comprehensive, two-year research comprising an intensive archival process and an in-depth collaboration with the artist. "This project began with the process of assembling and securing the complete archive of the artist, as well as unearthing various artworks kept by Saray's fellow artists," Roni said. "We conducted interviews with the artist in order to get information about his life and works. Gathered information, documents, oral interviews and all archival documents were compiled and carefully evaluated at the end of the two-year research period collaboration with Saray. He visited Istanbul to work with us. A research assistant who lives in London also assisted us during this process. Together with Saray we went through all the archive and materials selected for the exhibition and re-installed or reproduced the artworks."
Saray has been living in London since 1980, a dark year in Turkey's history. In 1992, he traveled to Istanbul for the first time since his sudden departure in 1980, to participate in the Sanat-Texnh exhibition. "10 Sanatçı 10 İş: D (10 Artists 10 Works: D)" in 1993 was the last exhibition he participated in Turkey. "He only had one solo show organised at the artist Osman Dinç's studio in Paris," Roni said. "This exhibition is the most comprehensive project that has taken place in his life." "From England with Love, İsmail Saray" runs until November 2. It will be on view at SALT Ulus in Ankara, from November 18 to January 10, 2015.