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Reflections on “Yüzleşme, Confrontation:” Yeditepe University Faculty of Fine Arts Exhibition of Students and Graduates at Pera Museum in Istanbul

With the changes brought on by the global pandemic, it is especially poignant to visit an exhibition celebrating the art of students and young graduates. As Marcus Graf notes in his curatorial statement, visitors can face and confront their reality by looking at the works on display, asking “What better way to see [the world] than through a student’s eyes”? 

Yüzleşme, Confrontation (on view September 7–October 24, 2021) at the Pera Museum in Istanbul, Turkey, also accessible online, highlights work of students and recent graduates of Yeditepe University’s Faculty of Fine Arts. The exhibition’s aim to “[constitute] a platform where the faculty can face its past and present” is aptly realized in the three-floor exhibition inviting audiences to contemplate the role of art-making today. The Pera Museum holds the Suna and Inan Kiraç Foundation collection. On display in the neighboring galleries are works from their collection of Anatolian weights and measures, Kütahya tiles and ceramics, and Orientalist paintings, including paintings by Osman Hamdi Bey and ambassadorial paintings of the Ottoman court by foriegn painters.  In this historic atmosphere, Yüzleşme, featuring contemporary works by young emerging artists, is a commentary on creative courage and the value of an art education as a catalyst to bring about social change that starts with the individual. 

Gallery view of the upper floor of Yüzleşme at Pera Museum. Image: © Pera Museum. Online image source: Pera Museum Gallery Images

The exhibition engages with five themes: nature, the city, the individual, society, and abstraction. Beginning with nature, the exhibition moves between organic forms from the natural environment to humankind and their built environment (architecture and the city). Also featured are costumes, fashion photography and videos, and cooking stills. For example, Cansu Ödemis’s photograph, Happily Never After (Sonsuza Dek Mutsuz) reverts the traditional fairytale motif by exposing societal expectations and problematizing the unattainable quest for perfection. In this “new” fairytale, living happily ever after is a false promise upheld by the cosmetic and beauty industry. In addition, social issues are enacted in film reels from Yeditepe student blackbox theater performances. The multifaceted student artworks, which include sculptural installations and video montages, invite interaction. The exhibition engages a collection of viewpoints that offer a sense of hope moving forward. The curatorial approach, displaying works side by side in an array of mediums, gives a communal feel, which is emphasized by the collaboration of departments at Yeditepe.

Cansu Ödemis, Sonsuza Dek Mutsuz, Happily Never After, 2019. Photograph, 100x70cm. Image from SS-19 collection ‘Happily Never After’ selected for Trend Privé Magazine’s August 2018 issue. Online image source: Yeditepe Faculty of Fine Arts, “ACHIEVEMENT OF CANSU ÖDEMIŞ” Accessed October 2, 2021.

“We are all artists”

Yüzleşme invites visitors to confront themselves and their experiences by using art as a medium and the exhibition platform as a tool to confront the self, society, and the past/future in the present. Curated by Marcus Graf, the exhibition, in his words, facilitates a space to imagine a “different normal, a better normal.” Indeed, on the heels of creating art in a time marked by restricted movements of the pandemic era, artworks can move between worlds. Playing with time, place, life and art, artists and performers frequently engage with digital and virtual modes. To confront the “dangers” outside the space of the canvas and the empty stage facilitate a space for free movement. As such, Yüzleşme seeks to face forward to an emerging present. Throughout the exhibition, the art on display strives to be an entry-point to hold difficult conversations, an inner compass to navigate the tumult of everyday life by expressing a wide range of emotions and viewpoints.

Gizem Candan, Moment, 2018. Ready-made object and digital print, diameter: 28 cm.  Image: © Pera Museum. Online image source: Pera Museum Sanatçı Gizem Candan ile Yaratıcı Düşünme. Accessed October 2, 2021.

Not all the works on display were produced during the pandemic; some pre-date 2019 yet nevertheless speak to the challenges and joys of making art today. Gizem Candan’s Moment, a pre-pandemic clock containing not numbers but activities that mark time, is a commentary on the passage of time. Candan’s more recent Pandemic Clock, although not featured in the exhibition, uses the same format as Moment, to mark the passage of 24 hours at home during the early stages of the pandemic. 

Design your reality

Much of the exhibition deals with how we inhabit spaces around us, from the city streets to the privacy of our homes. Rengin Altınalmaz’s City and Memory diasec print in particular engages with the city’s architecture, creating a red monochrome abstract cityscape by layering classical architectural elements. Creative acts of “confrontation,” through art-making, offer a way to get in touch with life and each other, by bringing together shared experiences during times of isolation during the pandemic era. Pages from Hazal Firat’s art diary series on display in the galleries takes a first-hand look into the creative process by presenting the work in progress as a complete work.  In this way, the works serve to hold a mirror to everyday experiences as compelling and worthy of examination.

Rengin Altınalmaz, City and Memory series, 2020. Diasec print, 125×65 cm. Online image source: One Arc Gallery, Istanbul, Turkey.

Another highlight was Rasim Aksam’s work capturing an empty bed, missing its sleeper, with rumpled white bed sheets with an indented pillow marking the space where someone once lay. Next to the bed, the wallpaper depicting a pastoral scene is a contrast to the stormy view outside the window. Facing an apocalyptic vista, the view captures where the viewer can weather the storm: inside, is a safer place to be. Whether working in the studio, writing in a journal, performing on the stage, or painting on a canvas, the artists’ individual works hold up a mirror to collective experiences. Against the backdrop of the pandemic era, where another kind of viral “storm” rages outside, artworks confront the outside world from inside. As Confrontation shows, continuing to make art and thinking creatively and critically offer paths to new realities.

Rasim Aksam, Untitled, 2020-21. Acrylic airbrush and watercolor pencil on paper, 27.9 x 47.1cm.  Image: © Pera Museum. Online image source: Pera Museum Gallery Images

For More Information:

This exhibition can be toured virtually by clicking Yüzleşme on Pera Museum’s website

Yeditepe University Faculty of Fine Arts Web Link: Yüzleşme / Confrontation PERA MÜZESİ | Faculty of Fine Arts 

Publication information: Y Ü Z L E Ş M E / Confrontation. Exhibition Catalogue. Istanbul: Suna ve İnan Kıraç Vakfı, Pera Müzesi Publications, 2021.

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