The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on the art world as most museums, theaters and events had to shut down and steer away from conventional methods of exhibition. However, inventive solutions rose throughout the year, with digital platforms being the front-runners. The Yunus Emre Institute in London is one of the art scenes around the world that has been providing exciting art in online exhibitions throughout the year. Their third Annual Turkish Community Exhibition, which opened virtually on Feb. 15, has been one of the spotlights of an art world struggling to adapt.
The Yunus Emre Institute in London, which celebrated the 10th anniversary of its foundation back in December, has been one of the most productive art institutes around the world while COVID-19 continued to spread. It has been holding events throughout the year, including film festivals, and has produced documentaries.
The institute has selected 88 artworks from 51 artists to display in their online exhibition, which aims to continue giving a voice to both emerging and established Turkish artists from the U.K., to stand as an essential tool in improving the relations between Turkey and the U.K.
The pieces on display are exquisite and vibrant. Touching on various themes and drawing influence from across genres, you can find more conventional pieces that are created with historical and traditional methods and techniques alongside experimental, abstract ones and works that reflect real-life events that have occurred throughout the bizarre last year. So, here are some of the notable artists and artworks featured in the exhibition which will be displayed online until March 15.
One of the more unique artists featured is Ahmet Kutu, whose digital photo manipulation collages reflect the painter’s passion for abstraction. “Healing World,” from Kutu's latest series called “Utopian Spaces,” stands out among his works as the words “Stay” and “Home” attract the eyes immediately.
The piece is from early 2020, created while the world first began to realize the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic and severe measures, restrictions and prolonged lockdowns were introduced to people’s lives as the new normal.
The piece features an adult and a child elephant strolling through a post-apocalyptic city, abiding by traffic rules and crossing the road when the light says they can, as a flock of birds fly above a mountain ridge and a fountain.
As the pandemic started to creep across the world, the majority of human life was under lockdown in their homes, and the artist depicts what a humanless modern city could look like if nature was left unchecked to heal humanity's concrete waste. While the beautiful, surreal and vibrant nature roams around, the crossed-out “Stay” leaves only “Home” behind, as if to say when people don't stay, when they don't stand in the way, nature comes home.
Another abstract artist, although employing quite a different style and form, is Bora Çetin, who uses his ceramics and glass degree in unique ways. The artist's “Animal Head Figurines” work, as the name would suggest, involves two human shapes sitting down, legs crossed with their backs against each other, while from the neck up they are adorned with zebra heads.
The completely handmade ceramic figures offer a unique experience to art enthusiasts and a dichotomy as it draws from collective Western culture and reminds of the mythical creatures that were half man and half horse, called centaurs, but in reverse.
Çetin's extensive work and attention to detail on what is a very small-statured sculpture, standing only at a height of 15 centimeters (5.9 inches), makes one much more appreciative of the art form as the hand-painted clay work seems as if it is alive.
Meanwhile, artist and psychologist, Eda Ermağan-Çağlar offers the surreal and traditional art form of “ebru,” better known in the West as “paper marbling,” to virtual visitors of the event. Çağlar's passion for the art form, which involves floating color on water or a solution that produces patterns similar to smooth marble, comes across clearly in her work “Tiger Eye.”
The piece, while being a dazzling exemplar of the art form, reflects Çağlar's own idea and commentary of it. The academic background and knowledge of psychology that Çağlar draws from, shines through the marbled paper.
Her belief that paper marbling offers people a safe place to impress their thoughts and feelings can clearly be seen as the lively blue in different eye-like shapes almost hypnotizes the beholder, providing a somewhat therapeutic experience.
Another exhibition of a traditional and historical form of Turkish arts is provided by the “tezhip” ("illuminated manuscript") works of Nagihan Seymour. “Tezhip” is an essential part of Islamic and Turkish manuscripts, most of which were illuminated works with decorations supplementing their text.
It is obvious from the get-go that Seymour has great respect and interest in the art form and has thoroughly studied the historical greats of it. What is also apparent is the artist's engineering background as her works are concerned more with symmetry almost to a mathematical degree.
Her own take on the genre presents visitors with a unique style of illumination and ornamentation with modern twists while staying true to traditional methods and rules and using nature as her main source of inspiration. Particularly her “Dandelion” piece displays an exquisite depiction of nature, painted with hand-crushed 22-karat yellow and moon gold.
The use of red is like a song for the eyes while parts of the dandelion floating away add a touch of melancholy. Combining classic geometrical designs with her own style, Seymour reflects the graceful and delicate symmetry of nature, capturing the famous “Phi” or the golden ratio found in many patterns across the natural world.
Adding to the symmetrical aspects of the dandelion, the center of the dandelion with the floral branches forms an atom, demonstrating equilibrium and stylizing the infinite complexity of the world in a more simplified manner.
Then, there is a very welcome switch to quite a different form of art with “Satılık Araba” ("Car for Sale") a short film that draws a particular interest among dozens of paintings. Directed by Orhun Bora Çetin and written by Irfan Alış, who also provides the unique selection of music through his rock band “Peyk,” the film is a must-see if you are visiting this digital event.
The independent short, which is based on real-life experiences, portrays the unusually emotional relationship that one can form with inanimate objects as we follow the lead character, played by Alış, buying a pickup truck, and as he starts to spend more and more time with it, the car becomes almost a friend.
Although maybe not everyone's cup of tea with its very grounded way of storytelling, "Car for Sale" offers a rare and often overlooked aspect of life, as most people do form strong attachments to things like cars and houses mostly thanks to the memories they hold, which is reflected by the film's tagline, “It's not the destination that is truly memorable.”
We watch snippets across different times as Alış picks up and journeys with several characters and has conversations with them. Taking place almost exclusively within the car and decorated with simplistic, uncomplicated yet beautiful and telling shots, Çetin's unique style shines with the realism of the characters and the dialogue as they both feel like they are pulled straight from real-life and from across Turkey's towns and villages.
The viewer is immersed in this depiction, or rather a photograph of reality, as they witness the car become Alış' home, studio, cafe, prison and most significantly friend, and they are heartbroken as much as Alış' character when the inevitable breakup occurs and the car is put up for sale.
Other notable works that draw attention at the virtual event include Öznur Yenilmez, who is a “çini” instructor, which is a traditional Turkish art form of ceramic glaze, decorating the ceramic surfaces with patterns and designs. Inspired by COVID-19 lockdowns, Yenilmez ventures into unchartered waters for her, as she produces unique artworks with everyday materials that can be found at home using the paper-quilling technique.
Serdar Güzel's photography works, meanwhile, provide serenity with their focus on water. Particularly the artist's shot depicting a fisherman standing on his boat on Beyşehir Lake of central Turkey's Konya. From the series “Water-Scenes from Turkey,” the shot stands out by capturing the vibrant yellows of the lake beautifully, while the water, even when creased with the passing of the boat, still relates peace, solitude and beauty found in nature.
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