The attribute "contemporary" helps us rise above the constrains set by the stereotypes which revolve around art of any nation, and the tradition-based expectations which relate to it. The contemporary Turkish art scene consists of numerous protagonists, and we are here to bring you ten artists whose art explains what it means to be an active member of the progressive Turksh art scene today. The fact that its definition does not strictly rely on tradition does not mean that tradition is not part of Turkish art at all - as a matter of fact, it is a point of reference and a source of inspiration for at least half of these creatives. Still, being a versatile ground that it is, the Turkish art scene touches upon many other subjects and cultural references, sometimes even offering more than meets the eye at first (and if you've ever been to Turkey, you know that it offers quite a lot on a visual level).
Editors’ Tip: User's Manual 2.0 - Contemporary Art in Turkey 1975-2015
The book surveys the past forty years of Turkish contemporary art, featuring some of the artists that will also appear in our list, among them Taner Ceylan and Ahmet Ogut, who contributed to the book's realization. Its authors are two prominent figures related to contemporary art in Turkey as well - the renowned art critic and writer Sureyyya Evren, and the artist Halil Altindere. It is also important to mention that the book was inspired by a line attributed to the French poet Stephane Mallarme: "Everything in the world exists in order to end up as a book".
Given that he is one of Istanbul's most famous contemporary artists, it comes as a bit of a surprise that the work of Genco Gulan touches upon the disciplines which are regarded as "underdeveloped" in Turkey. Gulan is interested in Idea Art (which is how he describes his work), which could be defined as a form of conceptual art, and he is also quite familiar with the new media and explorations that take the art of new media as a point of reference. It is rather obvious that Genco Gulan holds a certain fascination with multiplication, given that his work is either concerned with the most obvious forms of duplication, or imitation, which serves to suggest that individuality is a myth. One of his most famous series (Self Portrait?) from 2013 questions personal identity through a number of photographs, all of which portray Gulan dressed as someone else (Andy Warhol for example, and you can see that image above).
Gulay Semercioglu was trained to be a painter, which is perhaps why she considers her weavings to be a form of painting. We cannot but agree with her on this point, since these majestic artworks share many of their qualities with paintings, in the most classical sense of the term. Gulay's fibers are characterized by rich color, and are densely interlaced so that the final product is awfully reminiscent of Color Field abstraction, one which we usually relate to the art of great art masters from the 20th century, such as Mark Rothko or Yves Klein.
Sarkis Zabunyan, simply known as - Sarkis, is one of the most prominent, internationally acclaimed artists from Turkey. Sarkis has been active as an artist since the 1960s, and his career was marked by numerous achievements, one of which is the position of a director of the Art Department at the École des Arts Décoratifs in Strasbourg, which he held from 1980 until 1990. Just recently, Sarkis' far-reaching conceptual work was crowned with his participation in the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, where his installation Respiro was chosen to represent the Turkish national pavilion. "I will be reaching out beyond geopolitics, to a more expansive context of a million plus years, going back to the creation of the universe and the beginning of time, back to the first-ever rainbow—the very first magical breaking point of light,” Sarkis said on the occasion.
Nilbar Gures is one of the five women on the list - which makes both genders equally represented, and although I prefer not to single out this fact in order to keep the gender issue out of it, this seems to be the right time to bring that up. Nilbar holds two degrees in painting, however she works across various genres, often using the "non-static" media, such as video art, to accomplish her intents. Most of her work examines the role of a woman in today’s society, specifically reflecting on the tabooed position of Muslim women, simultaneously addressing the relationship between women and men, and between women internally.
The explicit, hyper-realist paintings made by the German-born Taner Ceylan put him in the category of controversial artists, whose art is often associated with provocation. Ceylan's work raises a few questions related to male sexuality and sensuality, usually dealing with the homoerotic and the overtly sexual. Still, as much as the content of his work is openly erotic, it could be defined as emotional as well, given that its technical precision aims to reveal more than just plain physical nudity. Beside painting, Ceylan engages in sculpture as well, which is done in a similar realistic manner.
Ayse Erkmen started her career as a sculptor, however the medium has helped her work across other genres and to finally position her art within the field of installations and spatial interventions. Her work could be said to be minimalist in essence, meaning that it is usually based on her ability to recognize the potential of certain spaces and phenomena, and to use these traits, to manipulate them in order to emphasize their own nature. Thanks to this amazing skill, her installations serve as mediators which structure the bonds between the visitors and the exhibition space that surrounds them.
Meric Algun Ringborg is one of the youngest artists on the list, representing the freshness of Turkish contemporary thought. The Istanbul-born artist lives in Stockholm, and her art is progressing in a unique manner which is based on large-scale spatial installations, often encompassing entire exhibition spaces and turning them into staged scenes. The viewer finds him/herself surrounded by floating elements of stories, ones that are yet to be told. which envelop the spectator and incorporate him/her in the process of storytelling. The viewer is the one to become the narrator - the one who will interpret the installations in his (or her) own way.
Almost as young as Meriç Algün Ringborg, albeit equally promising - the Turkish artist Ahmet Ogut resides both in Amsterdam and Berlin, working diligently in both places. His work is, apparently, closely related to the European grounds, so much that his art is usually related to Europe rather than Turkey itself (which is why he is also included in our Top European Artists list). Given that he is interested in the notion, nature and possibilities of public spaces, it comes as no surprise that his work becomes site-specific and site-related so easily. His art usually addresses political and social issues, and quite often in a humorous, even ironical manner.
Cansu Cakar is definitely the youngest Turkish artist to be mentioned on this occasion, and her installation (Women's Atelier of Illumination) exhibited at the 14th Istanbul Biennale has helped us notice her. Cansu's sensibility is reminiscent of Meriç Algün Ringborg's, as they both tend to make comprehensive, all-encompassing installations that turn the exhibition space into a static theater. These installations will make you wonder which part of the exhibition is there by chance, and how much of it was actually staged and designed. Cansu was born in 1988, and we can safely predict that her artistic career is just getting started.
The Istanbul-based, Burka-born Irfan Onurman creates reliefs which consist of stripped fragments of tulle. The reliefs have a collage-like aesthetics, and they often depict random characters whose original portraits can be found on the Internet (the ones from his famous Gaze series, for example). The pictures consist of patches, composed so as to deliver the seemingly familiar faces or occurrences in a different, fragmented manner. The paintings that were part of the aforementioned series were set out to imitate an original Instagram feed, only in a significantly larger scale. Whichever the subject matter, the physical seems to be disunited and made from particles that are either supposed to define motion, or another kind of vision.