You should definitely visit Balkan Naci İslimyeli’s “Kozmos ve Toz (Cosmos and Dust)” exhibition in Ekavart Galeri.
We had a beautiful conversation with Balkan Naci İslimyeli on his latest exhibiton and art:
Y.S. What do you try to tell us with Kozmos ve Toz?
B.N.İ. I don’t want to tell about a single thing with Kozmos ve Toz. Of course, it’s a concept fitting to the vastness of the cosmos. However, we can say it’s the totality of humankind’s problems since the beginning. Art, philosphy and science begins with humankind’s thoughts on its existence and identity. A person gets deeper as he questions, as he seeks answers for his place in the world, the meaning of this place, the meaning of his own existence. Both inside himself and inside the outer world… This created area expands and spreads through the cosmos with other souls’, other people’s dreams. This is the magic of art. Art is actually sorcery. It’s creating a gravitation field. And the artist stands in the middle of this gravitation field. Single and all alone. Other people’s interest dispels this loneliness while multiplying it. It transforms into a pluralistic meaning. It even self-enriches.
A question that begins with Gauguin; for example, he has a famous painting ‘Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?’ and the artist asks the same questions. Modern species, no matter how much time they spend procrastinating, arrive at the point of self-existence arguments. My whole career expanded, obtained its space on these questions. I spent my whole life caring about my own existence and identity, the society’s historic frame, the contradictions and frictions of this frame with myself and the values I gained and lost out of this. Because, when a person gets deeper inside his own history, he also gets deeper inside his country’s history and culture and the world’s culture.
A human actually contains all of humanity’s aspects, all of humanity’s values. So art is, in a way, extracting these common values, solidifying them. This totality is at the same time the key for tolerance, creating a democratic identity, changing and transforming the society. In Kozmos ve Toz, I tell about these…
Actually, what seems like current is the result a person reaches – or cannot reach – in his contradictions with his surroundings by creating some association fields, using the moment that we live in and data of the history. I’m bringing forth a space and limit argument. At the same time, as you can see in all my pictures, I tell the adventures of an artist’s loneliness, his struggle to get over this loneliness with the help of the society that surrounds him, and his struggle to expand into this society, to gain some space.
Of course, these are not only current values. These are problems that were faced and had to be solved by people in all ages. Modern societies soar, have wider space and vision as they approach their artist with care and compassion.
We have been in this hopeless struggle of thinking of such a society and trying to create it for 40 years. But we keep on, as this is the reason for our existence. This is not something that could be kept on with belief due to stubbornness. You can only be and stay an artist if you cannot do anything else, if you are desperate. This was always an inner responsibility for me.
Y.S. Can we consider this exhibition as a continuation of the previous one? What was added to the blackboard?
B.N.İ. As you know, conceptually in “Kara Tahta (Blackboard)”, I shaped all my pictures in front of a black background due to my thought that only a blackboard could symbolize that our educational templates – that is, the education, which is the main frame for shaping the individuals that will create the cultural environment – were creating oppressive, formalizing and not thought inducing, ordering and not argumentitive individuals. Memories of violance that belong to my childhood and all the children that live today. That is, things that oppress them. You know how they beat the children with rulers… The hand gets opened and hit with a ruler, ears get pulled, the kid is made to stand on one foot…
I’m sure they still take place. Now, that blackboard background, that blackboard plane has evolved into a cosmos consciousness. It created a cosmotic space for itself there, of the social violence towards human existence, human identity or of self-violence. Because humankind that cannot compete with, that cannot create an alternative to social violence is doomed to self destruction. This is sort of a passive suicide. With this awareness, I used my figures as an expression of introversion, a sort of looking inside, almost giving up on war.
But my constant choice – and also art’s choice – is struggle. It’s a process of – at least – giving meaning to your own life with the courage to create, the courage to tell by thinking and creating with the fist. Common ground is the sharing of that dark atmosphere. White forms on top of that symbolize hope, human enlightenment and the power to fight and hang on for the future.
Y.S. ‘Yanan Melekler (Burning Angels)’, ‘Meleklerin Katliami (Massacre of Angels)‘ are very impressive works. What do these angels symbolize?
B.N.İ. They symbolize the humanity’s naïve, natural and fluid states. They are symbols that tell us how the emotion to do good – that is symbolized using angels – is killed, transformed into violence as time goes on, as a person lives; how the “superhuman,” that whiteness of angels is covered with social dirt. In short, it is a symbol for murder of goodness.
Y.S. There are stuff from all our childhoods in this exhibition. For example, there is a work on Pied Piper. What did you try to tell with this?
B.N.İ. Childhood is the only era in a person’s life where he can express pure good and pure evil without censorship. As a person lives on, he lives to censor those. This censor veil can be thin or thick depending on the society’s values. What we call living is a process where a person learns how to hide himself and internalize this information. But there is no such thing in childhood, it’s pure… it’s pure in its evil… it’s pure in its most instinctive good. “Pied Piper” was the most enchanting story I heard as a child. Because in that story a foreign voice that wakes the children up, in a way, seperates them from the social frame by making them leave their beds, provokes the children. It creates new questions, new interests in the children and forces them to follow that voice in the dark, out of their safe beds. This is the artist’s adventure. The will to leave a comfortable bed and to penetrate into foreign voices, foreign emotions, unknown spaces, unknown people! In short, a human curiosity… Therefore it always seemed like a symbol to me.
Y.S. We see text is also used with objects in your paintings. I was especially affected by the poem Cenin (Fetus). What is the relationship between text and painting?
B.N.İ. Texts have two meanings for me. I write since my childhood. I write short stories and poems, too. I always hid them out of embarrassment, to not seem too cheeky. But after a certain age, all your fears depart. You don’t care what the society says. I didn’t usually have it, but one of the things I fear most is greed… Or to seem greedy. It might be the foremost of the values I learnt in my family. Thus, I always hid them, but never lost my interest in them. It’s time to uncover them in bulk, as short stories, poetries and radio plays.
On the other hand, as you can clearly distinguish in my handwriting, there is calligraphy. Calligraphy is – both quantitatively and qualitatively – a very sacred symbol for communicaiton for me.
Y.S. Did correspondence via computers due to fast technological development make people forget about handwriting?
B.N.İ. They did forget, but they still look at old manuscripts, handprints in awe. They also still use their own handwritings even though only in the form of tiny notes. And those writings become a part of their characters. In this context, it is almost an analyzing science that is as valuable as a painting. My specialty is calligraphic analysis. My infatuation with calligraphy is due to my father. He was very interested; we had DVDs on the subject at home. He was a very modern man, but his writing sessions; his turning of old calligraphies into metal plates with an emotional connection always incredibly interested me. That culture is enormous. Now, as all past cultural values, it can be used for bad intentions, exploitations. But this is the fate of art. We look at good calligraphy examples of the past. In that context, my writing is very typical, characteristic. I believe I represent my spiritual seismography, my zigs and zags very well; I see them as a kind of a figure and use them in my paintings. Also the first thing I do as I develop a painting is writing calligraphic notes. I don’t get prepared only with figures. I write the texts, the poems for a picture as notes. Then I say to myself, why should I get rid of them? These are all building blocks for a picture, things that affect the outcome. I use texts in my paintings since the 90s and even turn them into the painting itself.
Y.S. Where did the idea for using different materials come from and what kind of a process was finding and collecting these materials?
B.N.İ. The artist cannot produce without a past and a future. He uses his internal travels and external data in his memories and recollections and presents them as an equation. I was always an archiever. That is, I bought and collected many objects of moveable size that excited me as I had sufficient money. What is an object? They are experienced things that have memories like a human being, have a past, had been touched by certain people in certain places in certain dates. They have memories, fragilities, just like human beings. Studying them is just like studying an old person’s face. That’s why I collected everything. One day in the flea market, you might see an object that reminds you of a day with your mother of father. You cannot leave it there, you want to own it. I buy that memory and carry it home. I have collected so much stuff this way. For example, there are tons of objects that I collected from prisoners. There are objects that the prisoners manufactured in their workshops and expressed their feelings as very naive confessions. I even want to hold an exhibition using them. Not by using them in my works, but just using them…
Y.S. How much do current affairs affect you while thinking about your works?
B.N.İ. Current, and at the same time historical… I always think about situations and positions that humanity had lived through in the past, is living through today and will be living through in the future. Feeling of estrangement, pains of conforming to, and alienation from the society and its environment with its history and geography. Connection between today and memories and what they remind today. Art is actually a psychoanalysis and at the same time a sociological analysis. You both test yourself and confess. Important part is to see yourself and society as it is and not to be afraid of the consequences. Art is a work of courage. As long as you do it, at first, you are regarded as odd. But then, whoever believes in your sincerity relaxes, just like you. Societies relax by vocalizing, explaining, sharing themselves.
I think our society didn’t ever use the data of art and has been left barren. We are a passive-aggressive society with low courage to talk, to express feelings, to act, even to use colors.
Y.S. Why is it so?
B.N.İ. Because people cannot find partners that will help them expand… because the language of art is not widespread in the society… an emptiness, a hardness born out of being left alone with the authority of the state… In truth, our people are very warm, they have very soft hearts. This is the result of an eons long culture brought by the geography. But we cover them in cities with the dirt, dust, exhaust smokes of the cities. As we shut, hide ourselves, we turn inside. We are covered by sediment, becoming lonelier with digital tools and toys.
Y.S. Can you tell us about your adventure of nearly 40 years on this path? How would you like to describe Balkan Naci İslimyeli from past to present?
B.N.İ. I always wanted to explain myself… I always wanted to tell people about the power and value of art. The students I educated took advantage of this but in the end they have to submit to society’s values. And I do not blame them. Not everyone can have the material and spiritual courage to struggle with the social frame to exist. But at least as a memory, I explained during their education that this is the most vital power, that being in peace with oneself, being able to critisize oneself is a main road, a main value to understand people, beginning with oneself. And I believe that I managed to explain that they could do this only by producing or watching art. I’m happy that I left a mark on them.
But did I manage to make a social change? With what I do in my art, I believe I expressed my identity as a dissident artist. Someone who doesn’t repeat himself, takes risks, and always tries to present the society with another face of the reality that they live in… The society has shown that it accepts and prefers the artist that always repeats his patterns instead of the artist that tries to re-new himself and his surroundings. Just recently, as they meet with the world via biennials and fairs, people began to think there could be other languages. I must confess I’m one of the most hurt and damaged artists because of this conservatism. Because, I created against this hard framework for years and tried to soften it.
Y.S. Years ago, I thought of Şahin Kaygun’s works, his photography as dissident. I always identified you with his dissidence.
B.N.İ. But that’s how an artist should be. I wish he had lived longer to create even more different things. That’s the only beautiful part of my life. The hope to see that someday what you do will be understood in this savage world. The longer it takes, the more meaningful and beautiful it is. That’s why early death is not pretty. Living at least gives the hope to see the rematch of our struggle. In this context, in truth I would like lo live beautifully; I also like life.
We thank Mr. Balkan Naci İslimyeli for his time and for this beautiful interview again.