"The West has consumed its arguments and is looking for fresh takes in art. Artwork by Chinese, Korean and Indian artists was popular for a while. There's a lot of interest in the East recently. The artists of Eastern and Middle Eastern origins have not yet been discovered. Their art is like a secret chest or a hidden treasure. This situation paves the way for the artists like me in the Western world," says Zeynep Çilek Çimen. Çimen is a young artist on the rise in the contemporary Turkish art scene. The painter will open her third solo exhibition "Mirror" at Manhattan CJ. one Gallery in New York on Nov. 1.
In contemporary Turkish painting, the articulation of cultural values as a phenomenon has been observed since the 1940s. Miniatures, calligraphy art, carpets and rugs, manuscripts, embroidery and all other traditional arts were included in art production in the 1950s, and a new language began to be formed through this new trend. These elements, which relieved of their usual uses, have gone beyond their traditional meaning and storytelling. Thus, this new language, established with care and skill in the trace of new forms, managed to transform the local into a novelty. Looking for the possibilities of the form with a similar view, painter Çimen produces her works of art as a form of expression of traditional interaction. Noting that she is committed to her roots with passion, the artist said that Turkish art has various issues that have not been examined yet. By considering that, Çimen chooses her paintings' themes accordingly.
Zeynep Çilek Çimen combines contemporary and traditional techniques in her work.
Çimen initially started her art journey with traditional techniques, including illumination and miniature. She continued her works by focusing on illumination mostly. She, however, felt that she needed to produce original, authentic works of art to be an artist. She did not want to repeat herself. "In the 16th century, traditional art experienced a golden age. What is continuing now is just tradition, not art. When I started to question this, I was inclined to learn Western styles and received various training in many fields, including plastic arts. To learn technical details you have to produce replicas of significant figures like Renaissance artists. Therefore, I thought that I should synthesize both traditional and contemporary arts to create something unique. This is what draws attention to my work," Çimen said, summarizing her art practice.
While building a bridge between tradition and the contemporary in her art, she repeatedly abstracts local motifs. While I was thinking how hard this technique must be, she mentioned Turkish traditional motifs' abstractness. "I try to abstract forms that are already abstract. We offered the abstract painting of the Seljuks with various motifs from the 11th century, the West presented it in the 20th century," she continued.
Çimen also has an optical surface painting approach in her works. This approach mainly focuses on the relations of form but also includes the symbolic uses of the motifs.
Reporting that op-art, which is known as optic art, and geometrical elements are vital in her art, Zeynep Çilek Çimen stated, "I like Bridget Riley's being the pioneer of the op-art. While I admire Eyüp Bedri Rahmioğlu's curiosity in motifs, I like Matisse's colors, Dali's character and Picasso's business mind."
Modern mingles with tradition
In her previous exhibits, art enthusiasts witnessed that Çimen's works are important in Turkish artistic history as the blended patterns are unique to Turkey. For example, in her first solo exhibition "Saklı Çeyiz" ("The Hidden Dowry"), she examined dowries that reflect the aesthetics of the era in which they are created. About this exhibition, Çilek once said she presents a colorful, extraordinary and deep visual realm.
In her second solo exhibition "Suretler Defteri" ("Face Book"), she brought together Seljuk and modern women while focusing on the encounter of Turkish women with their roots and the story of Turkish women's aesthetic touches. Many familiar portraits combined with the faces of Seljuk women and the motifs of the period come together in this show for art lovers. "In Turkish society, Turkish women weren't always behind the curtains or niqab [face veil]. Turkish women's place in history is quite different from all the fiction that comes to our minds. They have built bazaars, markets, inns, bathhouses, cuisines and hospitals; they have entertained their guests in mansions. They had influence at feasts and in councils. Moreover, Turkish women have designed their own aesthetics. Headlines, clothes are signs from the Seljuk period that prove that," she explained. This was exactly what she tried to reflect in this show.
She also opened up to the world with a show titled "Allah'ın Harfleri" ("Letters of Allah") comprised of 15 paintings and a statue. Exhibited in Rome, it saluted art enthusiasts with various collages and calligraphy.
Although she is known for her oil paintings, where she combines traditional patterns and modern techniques, Zeynep Çimen Çilek has also kept pace with the facilities of technology in art. She also produced video work titled "Padişehir," which was on display at the 1453 Panorama Museum. The video shows a silhouette of the historical peninsula of Istanbul written with the Prophet Muhammad's well-known hadith "Verily you shall conquer Constantinople. What a wonderful leader will he be, and what a wonderful army will that army be!" in the Kufic calligraphic style.
Following the traces of traditional Turkish art and Turkish roots in all of her artwork, the artist is primed to open her third solo exhibition. "Mirror," which will run until Nov. 15 at the gallery, is a mythical journey through the cultural identities of Anatolian, Seljuk, Ottoman and Turkish motifs, symbols and patterns. Çimen examines Anatolian rug motifs in this new exhibit. Speaking to Daily Sabah she said, "I scrutinize rug motifs and combine them with contemporary art techniques."
"Blessing," 130x130 cm, acrylic on canvas.
In the latest exhibition, Çimen places the motifs of nomadism at the center of the composition she established with a simple rhythm. She reconstructs new regional images with a linear spontaneity moving from calligraphy and analyzes them with geometric color plans. These images, in which the artist establishes new semantic relationships, are sometimes intertwined or deformed. Then, they become a formal concept of the belief that cultural identity can be manifested through symbols.
In this show, featuring motifs and patterns not familiar to Western audiences, visitors will get an understanding of how Çimen manipulates the local into universality with nomadic images, and the artist will reflect and introduce elements of Turkish origins by playing her recurring role of as a mirror.