A Promised Exhibition

Salt Ulus

April 22 – June 21, 2014

Gülsün Karamustafa, The Monument and the Child (2010), installation view from A Promised Exhibition, SALT Ulus, 2014  Photo: Cemil Batur Gökçeer Gülsün Karamustafa, <i>Abide ve Çocuk</i> (2010), <i>Vadedilmiş Bir Sergi</i>'den enstalasyon görüntüsü, SALT Ulus, 2014
Fotoğraf: Cemil Batur Gökçeer
Gülsün Karamustafa, The Monument and the Child(2010), installation view from A Promised Exhibition, SALT Ulus, 2014
Photo: Cemil Batur Gökçeer
A Promised Exhibition takes its name from Gülsün Karamustafa’s series Promised Paintings (1998-2004) and puts in perspective the two disparate yet concurrent aspects of her 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 selection of works made for SALT Ulus, A Promised Exhibition does not unfold in a chronological manner, but rather mimics the spiral movement of Karamustafa’s practice.

Visitors to SALT Ulus are greeted by Karamustafa’s large-scale installation Monument and the Child (2010), which directly references the artist’s childhood spent in Ankara. Based on photographs of the artist taken by her father in Güven Park, this multi-layered installation embodies the materials, methods and approaches the artist has used throughout her career; her interest in kitsch, her expertise in transforming archival information to vivid story-telling, her acute social analyses of the formation of the early Turkish Republic and her ease in interweaving history, nostalgia and personal experience.

Monument and the Child is followed by another example in which societal memory is intricately woven together with personal experience, the artist’s Prison Paintings (1972-1978). Produced shortly after the end of Karmustafa’s imprisonement after the military coup in 1971, these works are being shown in Ankara for the first time. The recurrent investigation of Turkey’s political history, at the level of the individual, is not limited to first-hand experience for Karamustafa; in the two-channel video installation Memory of a Square (2005), the artist focuses on various social incidents that took place in Taksim Square and what consequently happened in a middle-class household that has a view of the square. Situated on the first floor of SALT Ulus, her installation Courier (1991), or videos Stairway (2001), The Settler (2003) and Unawarded Performances (2005), not only bring to the fore familiar but often ignored stories of minorities and blurred identities, but also make visible the fragile narratives of displacement and border crossings.

Working in diverse media throughout her four-decade-long career, Karamustafa has investigated ideas of mobility, including displacement, immigration, expatriation, exile, and relocation. The recurrent theme of mobility for Karamustafa is not limited to her poignant works in muted colors, but also takes traces from the hybrid and colorful visual reality of Turkey’s internal migration. Her installation Monument for Kitsch (1987), which comprises a reproduction of a Venus statue—bearing signs of cultural appropriation—that the artist found and placed on a pedestal draped with velvet, cocooned in cheap tulle and household lighting, is one of the most emblematic examples of changes in the visual culture in Turkey as a consequence of internal migration. For Karamustafa, the use and appropriation of everyday materials, carrying multiple associations, became an artistic strategy that reflected this new visual culture that took shape 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.

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 the late 1970s to early 1980s, from her inclusion of men and women with languid eyes evoking Turkish film stars, to 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 introduced objects such as rakı glasses and plastic flowers in vitrine-like displays. Other wall-works from the second half of the 1980s, inspired by carpets that usually adorn walls in low-income homes—some featuring migrating images like Christ or Elvis Presley, albeit devoid of religious context—are collaged together with patterns such as leopard-print, becoming Karamustafa’s new paintings.

Spanning more than forty years and dramatic changes in Turkey’s political and social history, Karamustafa’s recurrent investigations of topics such as history, migration, locality, identity, and cultural diversity—from different angles and through various media—point to the cyclical nature of her practice, which informs the organizational principle of A Promised Exhibition.

Join an exhibition tour with Gülsün Karamustafa to hear more about the works from the artist herself, on Long Thursday, April 24 at 19.00.