Works by Turkish women artists on display
An ongoing exhibition at Istanbul’s Meşher, titled “I-You-They: A Century of Artist Women,” is a chance to discover hidden gems in Turkey’s art world.
Organized under the patronage of Çiğdem Simavi, the exhibition features a selection of 232 works by 117 artists. Living and working in Turkey roughly between 1850 and 1950, the work of these women artists is largely unrecognized by the art historical canon.
“I-You-They” takes its name from an exhibited work by Şükran Aziz, an international Turkish-born artist and the founder of the Cabaret Voltaire in Poughkeepsie, New York.
Referring to Aziz’s call to collectivity, the exhibition does not only recognize women’s struggle for selfhood, the “I,” but also explores the conditions for the formation of a collective “we.”
The subtitle “A Century of Artist Women” refers to an “other” history when the stories of women artists and their works that remained outside the straight lines drawn from one name, group, or institution to another, are narrated and commemorated. Thus, in this exhibition, women are presented a “century” in which they themselves are the heroines. “I-You-They” also encourages contemporary women artists to examine their heritage.
Mirrors in exhibition
While determining the scope of the exhibition, curator Deniz Artun underlines that the existence of contemporary women artists in Turkey has no history. However, “I-You-They” will not claim to write this history. On the contrary, it recalls and reminds us that this history to be written is not singular but plural. The exhibition is a call to a “we” in and through which each woman and each work can construct its very own history.
“I-You-They” is spread over three floors of the Meşher building. The ground floor “I” concentrates on fameless women who are faced only with their very plain existence in the mirror. Mirrors placed in different corners of the exhibition space are meant to catch a glimpse of more than one face or facet of a single woman.
The exhibition is an investigation that starts with the intention of rendering women artists visible - at times even despite themselves- in a context other than their studios and especially their homes.
There are many examples of women who deliberately scratched their own names from history. So, the mirror sometimes serves as a “magnifying” glass held up to those who failed to reflect the sparks of their creativity on history.
The first floor “You” offers an encounter with the soft and unifying “you.” It calls out for the children as the primary “you.”
Most of the portraits and self-portraits invite us to contemplate the experience of motherhood and subjectivity, the definitions of family and compassion and the power of creativity and immortality. In addition, “You” juxtaposes the sanctity of motherhood with the sensuality of nudity.
The second and last floor “They” looks at women through the eyes of others. Flowers, especially when in a vase, comprise all the adjectives attributed to women: Emotional, vulnerable, amateur-spirited, ordinary, domestic and decorative.
Often, women artists were able to express themselves only by painting flowers in a vase since they were confined to depict the safe and the elegant. The “flowers” that are scattered around the top floor of the exhibition without favoring any one artist over another offer an alternative to a schematic family tree and a linear art history.
The exhibition will run through March 27, 2022.