Art FocusIstanbul’s Meşher Presents “I-You-They: A Century of Artist Women”

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I-You-They: A Century of Artist Women opens at Meşher, Istanbul on October 9th 2021 lasting until 27th March 2022 organised under the patronage of Çiğdem Simavi and sponsored by ÜNLÜ & Co.

The exhibition, curated by Deniz Artun, features a selection of 232 works by 117 artists. Living and working in Turkey between roughly the 1850 and 1950, the work of these artists is largely unrecognised by the art historical canon.

I-You-They takes its name from an exhibited work by Şükran Aziz, a Turkish-born international artist and the founder of the Cabaret Voltaire in Poughkeepsie, New York. Referencing Aziz’s call to collectivity, the exhibition does not only recognise 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 artist women 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 artist women to examine their heritage.

Meşher takes its name from the Ottoman Turkish word meaning exhibition space and its mission is to advocate for the creation of new dialogues across time and cultures. In this context, I-You-They: A Century of Artist Women hopes to create an opportunity for its viewers to discover the forgotten or overlooked artist women of Turkey and lead to greater cultural awareness and appreciation.

History

While determining the scope of the I-You-They exhibition, curator Deniz Artun underlines that the existence of contemporary artist women 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 artist women visible -at times even despite themselves- in 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”s. Most of the portraits and self-portraits invite us to contemplate the experience of motherhood and subjectivity, the definitions of family and compassion, 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, artist women 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.

Solidarity

The patron of the I-You-They exhibition, Çiğdem Simavi, expresses her purpose of setting out as follows: “As a woman, I have always believed in women’s endeavours, power, solidarity and the unifying role we play. My greatest dream has been introducing artist women of Turkey to a wider world, bringing them out of obscurity into the light. I have never ceased to pursue that dream, never doubted that women are the unsung heroes behind my country’s cultural and artistic heritage which I have always admired.”

Executive Board Member of ÜNLÜ & Co, Şebnem Kalyoncuoğlu Ünlü, said: “As ÜNLÜ & Co, since our establishment in 1996, we aim to develop a thriving, leading and pioneering investment services and asset management group in Turkish finance market. At the same time, we carry out activities that will bring the power of women to the fore and also support different art projects, which we consider as the unique reflection of human creativity. In this special year when we celebrate our 25th anniversary, we are proud to sponsor such an exhibition that reveals the centennial endeavours of artist women from Turkey. The I-You-They exhibition will be an important milestone in recognizing and making visible the women artists who have gone unnoticed or have been neglected in art history.”

Together with the exhibition, an exhibition book containing visuals of the works and ephemera has been prepared. The texts for the book were written by curator Deniz Artun, as well as Şeyda Çetin and Ebru Esra Satıcı, who carried out the research and curatorial work of the exhibition. Documents compiled by Şeyda Çetin and Esra Satıcı were included in the book as a kind of shared album. The book, which is published in two separate editions in English and Turkish, can be purchased from Meşher and Koç University Publishing, or ordered from online bookstores.

The event program of the I-You-They: A Century of Artist Women exhibition, which will be organised by the curator of the exhibition Deniz Artun and the Meşher team, will take place simultaneously with the exhibition. Various talks, adult workshops, and children’s workshops will take place online and free of charge.

For more information about the exhibition and to view all the artists taking part visit: https://www.mesher.org/Home/English

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