Our Blissful Souvenirs

Nur Koçak

Salt Ankara

January 8 – February 16, 2020

Gorsel Image 1 3 Nur Koçak, <i>Annem, Babam, Ablam ve Ben 1</i>, 1980-1983
Fotoğraf: Mustafa Hazneci, SALT
Nur Koçak, Annem, Babam, Ablam ve Ben 1 [My Mother, My Father, My Sister and I 1], 1980-1983
Photo: Mustafa Hazneci, SALT
Çankaya Municipality Contemporary Arts Center, Ankara

The most comprehensive exhibition to date of Nur Koçak, one of Turkey’s first photorealist painters, is on view at Çankaya Municipality Contemporary Arts Center (ÇSM) in Ankara, following its initial presentation at SALT Beyoğlu and SALT Galata. Titled after one of her works, Our Blissful Souvenirs comprises a selection of photographic series and sculptures, produced between the 1970s and 2010s. The exhibition offers an in-depth view into Koçak’s critically narrative practice, which examines the spread of popular culture from women’s magazines and Hollywood movies through to its repercussions in Turkey.

Our Blissful Souvenirs begins with Cahide-Önce [Cahide-Before] (1996-1999), first in a series of paintings scrutinizing the tastes of the pre-1960 urban middle class as well as how Turkey’s first female film star and filmmaker Cahide Sonku (1919-1981) was professionally discredited. Inspired by the grandiose movie screen, the artist painted a monumental portrait of her, with a melancholic stare, wearing pearl necklace and holding a cigarette, based on a still from Sonku’s 1945 movie in which she was the femme fatale.

Followed by this work, the series Fetiş Nesneler [Fetish Objects] (1974-1988) and Nesne Kadınlar [Object Women] (1975-1979) combine visual elements from the women’s magazines Koçak had collected in Paris while studying painting. Beginning with her 1974 work Vivre–defined by the artist as the turning point of her practice–Fetish Objects decontextualizes and monumentalizes alluring photographs of popular nail polish, lipstick and perfume brands by transferring them onto canvas. In works such as Siyah File [Black Fishnet] (1974) and Kırmızı ve Siyah [Red and Black] (1976) from Object Women, Koçak anonymizes models “as “faceless bodies,” using images from underwear, swimwear and bikini advertisements.

Focusing on the reflections of the global consumer culture in central Istanbul, Vitrinler [Shop Windows] (1989-2019) intertwines street images with fishnet stockings embroidered with beads or rhinestones, lace lingerie and other accessories. This photographic series questions the depersonalization of the female body, as it suddenly became the object of the gaze through the overt display of retail products once deemed private.

Daughter of a military officer, who spent her childhood and early youth years in Ankara, Koçak’s Aile Albümü [Family Album] (1979-2012) is based on photographs, mostly taken in a studio, of the artist’s own family, ranging from the time her parents got married in 1930 to the 1950s. The artist probes the image of the ideal family of the republic, in which each member is assigned a strictly defined role; the uniformed father stresses the firm institutionalization of the family, the devoted mother stands in for support and continuity while the carefully dressed children signify a hopeful future.

The last series in the ÇSM presentation depicts scenes of happiness etched into the collective psyche. Koçak’s black and white drawings inspired from the column “Your Blissful Souvenirs” in Kelebek, a popular women’s newspaper of the time are accompanied by a number of romanticized postcards of soldiers in mandatory military service, found in Istanbul’s printing district Cağaloğlu. Emphasizing the discrepancy between an experience and its representation, the series Mutluluk Resimleriniz [Your Blissful Souvenirs] (1981) also renders visible Koçak’s extensive use of postcards as an artistic medium, after she began participating in mail-art exhibitions at the end of the 1970s.

Born in 1941, Koçak made her foray into art early on; in primary school she studied under the tutelage of artist Turgut Zaim at TED Ankara College Foundation School. In high school, she studied with abstract expressionist painter Leon Berkowitz in Washington, DC, where she was chosen “the best student in painting.” During her education at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Istanbul, which she started in 1960, Koçak first joined Adnan Çoker’s gallery, and later the studios of Cemal Tollu and Neşet Günal. Opposing the strict rules set forth by her academic training, Koçak insisted on making photorealist paintings early on in her career. The exhibition Our Blissful Souvenirs highlights her determination in this preferred technique and medium as well as the feminist viewpoint in her works, which contributed to the transformation of the local art historical narratives that often overlooked or entirely disregarded female identity.

Programmed by art historian Ahu Antmen together with Amira Akbıyıkoğlu from SALT, Our Blissful Souvenirs was reconfigured for its ÇSM presentation.

On the opening evening of the exhibition at 18.30, Antmen and Akbıyıkoğlu will be in conversation with the artist in the Yaşar Kemal Conference Hall at ÇSM. Further details of upcoming public programs in parallel to the exhibition will be announced at saltonline.org and SALT Online social media channels.