‘A Promised Exhibition’ for Gülsün Karamustafa
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
The works became increasingly three-dimensional, as artist Karamustafa included objects such as rakı glasses and plastic flowers in vitrine-like displays.The most comprehensive presentation of Gülsün Karamustafa’s works to date, both in Turkey and internationally, A Promised Exhibition is on view at both SALT Beyoğlu and SALT Galata, through Jan. 5, 2014.
A long-overdue survey, A Promised Exhibition takes its name from the artist’s series Promised Paintings (1998-2004) and puts in perspective the two disparate yet concurrent aspects of Karamustafa’s artistic career: paintings made with the local audience in mind and a more intrepid experimental practice, which coalesces with this specific series of paintings. The exhibition spans the artist’s entire oeuvre including painting, collage, installation, and video works from the early 1970s to today. Comprising a comprehensive selection of her works, A Promised Exhibition does not unfold in a chronological manner, but rather mimics the spiral movement of the artist’s practice.
Working in diverse media throughout her four-decade-long career, Karamustafa has investigated ideas of mobility, including displacement, immigration, expatriation, exile, and relocation. Her installation Mystic Transport (1992) – originally made for the 3rd Istanbul Biennial and here installed on the second floor of SALT Beyoğlu – consists of colorful quilts stuffed in metal baskets that the visitors can move around the exhibition space, and is the most emblematic example of these themes. For Karamustafa, the use of everyday materials, carrying with multiple associations, became an artistic strategy that reflected the new visual culture that took shape in the country in the early 1970s and peaked in the 1980s—a result of the massive waves of internal migration from rural Turkey to its major cities.
Different aspects of the exhibition
As rural populations became city dwellers, there was a rising sentiment of arabesk, a word that in Turkish refers not only to the hybrid musical genre but also characterizes a new urban condition inflected with the experiences of loss and longing, as well as defeatism and fatalism, with a tinge of provincial nostalgia. Arabesk is reflected in Karamustafa’s paintings from late 1970s to early 1980s, with her inclusion of men and women with languid eyes evoking Turkish film stars, in her depictions of the interiors of shantytown dwellings decorated with floral prints, as well as in the titles of the works often borrowed from poignant song lyrics. The works themselves became increasingly three-dimensional, as Karamustafa included objects such as rakı glasses and plastic flowers in vitrine-like displays. Other wall-works from the second half of 1980s, inspired by carpets that usually adorn walls in low-income homes – some featuring migrating images such as that of Christ or the Virgin Mary, devoid of religious context – are collaged together with patterns such as leopard-print, becoming Karamustafa’s new paintings.
The recurrent theme of mobility for Karamustafa is not limited to the hybrid and colorful visual reality of Turkey’s internal migration. Situated on the third floor of SALT Beyoğlu, her installations such as Courier (1991), Vatan Doğduğun Değil, Doyduğun Yerdir [“Your homeland is not where you are born but where you have a full stomach,” a Turkish proverb] (1994), and the video work The Settler (2003), installed on the first floor, make visible the fragile stories of displacement and border crossings.
Often the themes of mobility are tied to events Karamustafa’s own life, as her personal story becomes intricately intertwined with the history of Turkey. In the installation Apartment (2012), she follows the trail of the former Greek-Istanbulite owners of her residence back to Greece. My Roses My Reveries (1998) freezes a moment from the Ankara-Istanbul sleeper-train journey (a voyage frequently made by Atatürk) in which a photo from the artist’s childhood transforms into an instance of collective nostalgia; the “father-figure,” absent in the photograph, becomes the allegorical father-figure of the nation who works in Ankara. Another example in which societal memory is intricately knit together with personal experience is the installation Stage (1998), which is informed by Karamustafa’s political activism, especially by her and her husband’s arrest after the military coup in 1971. This piece will be accompanied by her Prison Paintings (1972-1978), which will be shown to the public for the first time.
The artist’s own mobility, as she traveled extensively for exhibitions (primarily in Europe) after obtaining her passport in 1986, led her to question issues of identity. Karamustafa analyses the ideologies and representations of the Orient-Occident in a series of installations, such as Presentation of an Early Representation (1996) and Fragmenting Fragments (1999). The installations deconstruct single images via fragmentation and close-ups of the originals, and simultaneously reflect the artist’s complicated admiration and criticism of orientalist imagery. Karamustafa also subjects conventions of gender to scrutiny, starting as early as the sculpture Double Reality (1987), and later, her more unconventional multimedia works, including the three-channel video-installations Men Crying (2001) and Tailor Made (2005), and the slide-projection Hotel Room (2002).
Spanning more than 40 years and dramatic changes in Turkey’s political and social history, Karamustafa’s recurrent investigations of topics such as migration, locality, identity, cultural diversity and gender—from different angles and through various media—point to the cyclical nature of her practice, which informs the organizational principle of A Promised Exhibition.