” Free’n Happy ” Leyla Alaton

There is a businesswoman who is always joyful, always energetic, works as an ant without getting tired and complainig, makes a name for herself by her success besides her putting support behind the art, artists and above all behind the women. She is independent, happy, still standing and she is a mother knowing her priorities. FREE’N HAPPY LEYLA ALATON as she says every morning.

Leyla Alaton / Yasemin Semercioğlu
Leyla Alaton / Yasemin Semercioğlu

We completed our conversation which we talked about art first at her office where I visited for the interview about her exhibition Selected Works of Leyla Alaton’s Collection “Alaca” held at Ekavart Gallery by talking about woman, family and the subjects that she never mentioned before. I hope you will read the interview with pleasure. Leyla Alaton with her sincerity.

Yasemin Semercioğlu: You showed your collection compiled by mostly contemporary works by the name “Alaca” with the art-lovers in Ankara at m1886 Döne Otyam’s Art Gallery last year. This year, your exhibition “Alaca” held again curated by Deniz Artun in Istanbul at Eğitim Kültür ve Dayanışma Vakfı Ekavart (Education, Culture and Research Foundation Ekavart Gallery). How did you create the idea to bring together your art works with the art-lovers and how did you developed the project process?

İnci Aksoy / Leyla Alaton /
İnci Aksoy / Leyla Alaton / Arzu Kaprol

Leyla Alaton: The idea of ocuurance of mycollection belongs to Deniz Artun from Galery Nev Ankara (Gallery Nev Ankara). I was surprised when she said “Let’s show your collection in Ankara, you have very beutiful works!”. Okay, they are very good for me they touch my senses but I have never been assertive about “Leyla Alaton Collection” and I will never be. A perfect exhibition was held in Ankara with the works selected by accidentally and it was liked a lot. I enjoyed very much because I had the opportunity to show such different works withvariable textures. For instance there is a very nice comment on Ekavart Gallery’s Instagram account and also in Originel Magazine. “Alaca” exhibition is a püre and real light to be discover Leyla Alaton’s life.” It could not be explained better. Organizing an exhibition in Istanbul after the one in Ankara was İnci Aksoy’s idea who is the manager of Ekavart Gallery. She made me feel honorable by recommending “Alaca” exhibition while I was thinking what to do for 14th Istanbul Bienal simultaneously. Because the collection was seen by the art-lovers in Istanbul via photographs or via watching on Ekavart. Now they have the opportunity to see and live it. There were foreigners seeing the collection at my home at Contemporary and Artinternational times. But it is partly difficult to recognize the works in gallery, because it is very different to see the works at home from seeing them in gallery. It is very nice for me, has been the same for those who seethem in gallery. It has been a very good process, curator Deniz Artun came again, installed again. And I announce good news, the exhibition will continue one week more.

Jullian Opie / Gallery Staff

Y.S. : It is seen that there is a strong and dense ‘woman’ and ‘women artists’ theme at “Alaca” Collection as a whole. You are a well known feminist. You always give support against violance against women or to everything related towomen. How can you succeed in supporting the women trying to become self-supporting especially in terms of producing of all your works and projects?

L.A.: Yes, there are a considerable amount of women artists and their names became the main topic of our conversation. They were appreciated again. Nur Koçak came to the launch and bring honor. She is one of my favourite artists. I have such a feminine work of her and it is my pleasure. The work comprises of a dry painted perfume bottle and two nail polishes. I highly recommend the art lovers to see the other works lively.

Nur Koçak / Leyla Alaton
Nur Koçak / Leyla Alaton

First of all, I’m a workaholic and bon vivant. I think that a person can do anything if he/she wants it enough. I never use something as an excuse and I know my priorities well. I have been like this for thirty years. I have not been a feminist because it is trendy. I have been in this loop since I returned from America.I have always thought that women need to study, and become financially independent and also thought that women being financially independent and having Money would be free and happy. I have always tried to make my point, I especially supported the young. Hence, from 50 to 80 Turkishwin “Leader Young Women Of The Future” will come to Ekavart Gallery. A community of girls of all the campuses. These young women will be businesswomen in the time to come and I will give a motivating speech there, my message will be ‘Free’N Happy’, that is to say earn your own money, be happy, share your life. Standing on a woman’s own feet is significant… Even if she has a family and make an economic contribution to her family, she is treated more equally. And in the unlikely event of a problem like divorcing, she will have to raise her children alone. If she earns her own money, she will be able to fulfil her children’s needs easily. She won’t be like a fish out of water.

Y.S. : You mentioned Free’N Happy and you have shared it many times on social media so far. There are some people thinking that Free’N Happy is raising your hands. How did this motion occur and spread snappily?

L.A. : As I said a short time ago, a woman need to stand on her own feet in order to be “free” and “happy”. That motion occured spontaneously by raising our hands during the marches and walking in a free and happy way. Then, others wanted me to do it again, others started to do it. At the end, it became the symbol of the women who are “Free’N Happy”.

Y.S. : You have been exhibiting the works of your collections that you have compiled in many many years and been a supporter for the art and the artists. Your parents gave you a work of Erte as a graduation present. Is it right to admit that it is the milestone for you to become a collector? How did your being a collector process develop? Which emotions prompt you to support art and artists?


Erte / Her Secret Admirers

L.A. : perfect question, we can sit here all afternoon… Yes, I wanted my parents to buy a very beautiful lithography of Erte as a graduation present for me. I remember its name “Her Secret Admirers”. It is still wall-hung in my bedroom. There is a woman like a queen and men in 18th century dressing style passing their hearts behind her. I consubstantiate myself with that woman. This is the first time that I tell, there were a lot of admirers of me when I was young and beautiful, but they could never say their emotions. I learnt them after a long time. I was too unpermissive to close in those years. It was not easy for others to close. Actually I was not a very strong woman between 26-28. But there are some people keeping others at bay and I was one of them, I’m still one of them. But they are surprised as they get to know me and they ask how they thought so different about me. Maybe I have changed in these years. Because the environment that I have involved is a little bit different, art closes people up. We met in such an environment and became friends quickly. The process that I become a collector has been slow or fast timeto time. But I tell openly that I have become an enthusiastic collector for ten years. I enjoyed it and I gave some thought to it very much. Because my kids grew up and I found time for collections despite my active working. The social associations and the foundations that I involve are convenient for this area. Being a member of Aksanat and New Museum’s board of management and the Consultative Committee of Artinternational and Contemporary have made me get involved with art automatically.

Being an art follower is an important work of itself. It started to be an occupation in time. It is not possible for me to visit all the well-known fairs, bienals and exhibitions. In order to do that a person should have alot of money and have plenty of time, such a person can experience all the art activities in the world. Even if I say that my kids grew up and I can find time to be involved in art, their life is always my priority.

Y.S: You have got two handsome sons named Atlas and Eros. They have different interests like doing sports because of their ages. Are they interested in arts because you are their mother? Are there any works that you bought for them as your parents did?


Eros and Atlas

L.A. : I think raising my sons in an ambiance full of art will make them love art or create aesthetic perspective even if they are not interested in art. Of course I bought works for them such as a laser cut acrylic one of Pınar Yoldaş. That colourful brain is my favourite for the sake of their brains full of colourful and wise. It is hanged in the room that they visit most for spending time, watching TV, meeting their friends etc. That is to say, they live in an atmosphere 100% full of art. I never keep my sons away from the artworks in case they are damaged, I just want them not to play basketball in the room containing artworks, that is all.

Y.S. : I think it is wanted by all the mothers…

L.A. : That is true, but mine used to tend to play inside, even they broke an entrance lamp, they did similar things, let’s not go there. As you know, there are numerous artworks everywhere in my house like my garden, in the balcony, entrance, even among the creepers. It is impossible to create a radar blind range in my house. Sometimes this situation poses a danger but the important point is raising my children in an artistic environment. Brain gets this visual pieces most directly, saves and develops them. So they will hang artworks for their houses in their own houses in the future if they go to different cities. I think so.

Y.S. :   I remember that once you said “There are no works that I reservoir.They are all at home, at office, under my very eyes.” Some collectors regard their works as investment tools. I think you get them delightedly. What are your criteria while buying artworks? Are there any works in Alaca Collection that you attach particular importance?

L.A.  : I have never bought any works that I have for investment purposes and I have never sold any of them. I do not buy a work because others have or because the artist is very popular. For instance I do not buy because there are 10 Tony Cragg works. On the contrary, I prefer the ones which are nowhere. As, the works frequently seen do not mean many things to me.

I cannot exemplify just one work in Alaca collection. Each of them excited me, I decided by falling in love in a minute. I did not think for days or weeks, I did not hesisate. I am a single-minded woman, I do not get others’ opinion, I do not price something out. There is no reason to make me decide to buy if I see and like something and if it is affordable for me. I do not ask consultants or friends. They are the works living in my life, I do not need to meet the artist. I think artists are like stars, they should be loved far away from themselves.

LEYLA-ALATON-714Y.S. :  You grew together with two intellectual people. Once you said that you were lucky because you are İshak Alaton’s daughter. It is obvious that you were affected by your father and Üzeyir Garih. Except for this, you are an exultant and a very special woman. What would you do now if they had not been? There is a period that you went to America and sell belts. Was it something that your father encouraged you to do?

L.A. : If I had not been born in that family, I would be a very different woman now… Here I am with the genes that I got from my parents. Then, Mr. Garih contributed greatly to my first business experiences. The enterprise in America was not my father’s idea. My character manifested itself when I was 12-13 years old. I had the makings of a leader in those years. After all, If you are have a leadership spirit, it emerges in those years, my 13 year-old son takes after me he behaves in the same way. I used to organize everything, throw my friends together, decide what to do and when to do. If you have a leadership spirit, it is not possible to prevent yourself. I have always been at the forefront. I have been working since I was 13 years old. I was interested in selling something at the fairs, I wanted to give the artists flowers at IKSV, sometimes I wanted to work volunteerly. I used to go to the company in summer and use telex. Think for a while, those years, there was telex, many years ago, before the telecopy. This situation does not make me young. Briefly,I was very hardworking when I was a child, when I was a young woman and still I am hardworking. Nothing can stop my working.

Y.S. :  I remember those years, there were not many businesswomen. You were two productive women.

L.A. : Yes, you are right, we weretwo businesswomen known, count off, Güler Sabancı and Leyla Alaton. Because women used not to be in the limelight even if they were decision mechanism. Journalists used to visit me or Güler Sabancı. There were other women but they were not well-known. For instance there was Sıdıka Atay from Cyprus. I was working for estate sales and public relations. I was very popular and was the face of the company. I was doing economic things for the company.

Y.S. : Your brother Vedat Alaton does not like being at the forefront, doesn’t he?

L.A. : That is true, Vedat does not like being popular. That is what his character. We designated the division of labour according to our differences. If everyone does the same, who will do the others?

Y.S. : That is completely true, so works are balanced. You are a very sincere character except from being the face of the company. I rarely meet such businesswomen like you; active, in touch with people, sincere. Most of those woman are in the back of beyond. What is the reason of your sincere character, thanks to your family or your innate character?

L.A.:   I think family training is very significant. They are very valuable people treating the people around them equally. I have never witnessed their despising others. My mother is from Sweden you know, she comes from an equalitarian community. They both witnessed the Second World War when they were kids. We have never been indulged at home, we have never learnt despising. These are the results of the role models in the family. It does not matter for me. I talked to Hillary Clinton in the same way that we are talking now. For instance, Paula El Sabah- wife of the Emir of Kuwait was here a few days ago, I met the wife of previous Shah of Iran in New York, It is all the same to me. They think so. We think that these people are out of reach but on the contrary, the people at the hide tide are much more elegant and friendly. The ones getting others away from them behave in this way becuse they are affected by the people around themselves. And at the end, they become lonely. People believing in myths are restricted by those myths. However, the people who do not care those things are much more successful than those restricted people. The people who always listen to the others and repeat ‘That should be like this, so they say etc.’ Cannot move along easily while the determined and enthusiastic ones go straight and achieve their objectives. Then, these ones are called ‘Lucky Ones’ but they are not. They are strong, determined, energetic and optimistic people who really achieve what they want.

I like having an edge as I am a sincere person, even I have borders in myself. Making free with people brings disrespect. It is a very sensitive point. I am always be careful about this situation, I do not like to rug shoulders with others. I like helping people,I like talking to people but I do not like running after people. I’m not interested in being a part of other people’s life. And I do not have enough time to do that.

Y.S. : The number of the businesswomen is increasing compared to the past but the violence to women is icreasing too. You attend the conferences, support the institutions and share your ideas on social media. What should be done additionally?

L.A. : All of them are the parts of rebirthand I try to support this. The way of violance has been talked aboutin these years. We have just recognised that our putting leverage on our kids is akind of violence. I did not know thename of the mobbing in the workplaces 5 years ago. I did not use to name the thing that I was exposed to as mobbing. When it is named once, it can be understood better, semtinized and an awareness is created. The violence has been increasing because they have started working and earning money; so they can say they fend for themselves. The more women are illiterate, the more they bow to the pressures. I talked that Turkish women woke up, the worm has turned at my speech in 2013, yes they woke up and they will not sleep again. Our responsibility is making the people around us be aware of what is happening. You have a daughter and you should make her have a good job. It is not possible to live by trusting the men around you. People should stand on their own feet.

Y.S. : How do you plan your days and weeks as a very busy person and which points do you pay attention for time management? We knowthat you take for a walk in the mornings, does the vitality start there?

L.A. :  I got up at 7.00 at the latest. I try to share a status or a photograph on social media if it is possible. I go on for awalk between 8 and 9 if I do not have a meeting early. I go to the office at 10.00 at the latest. If there is not an invitation that I need to attend in the evening, I stay at the office till 20.00. It is very easy to do anything for me, I do not need to be at the office. Thanks to the I-Phones and I-Pads, we can do whatever we want or have to do. So, we can work day and night as long as we take the responsibility. I work productive, fast and concentrated; I am not too lazy to finish my works in time. I have got a great assistant, I learnt which works I should make over my assistant at last, I used to do everything on my own at first. Igive my time and effort to the people volunteerly but now I am more selective and I am proud of myself.

Y.S. : Even if you go abroad because of business or holiday, you visit the museums and art galleries. You share your experiences with your followers via Instagram and your other accounts and write your impressions Ekavarrt Art Blog. You have an important art mission. Well, after visiting museums abroad, do you think that there are differences between them and in our country in terms of museology?

L.A. : Museums abroad and in our country are as different as chalk and cheese, we should develop more. I visited Palais de Tokyo which was closed for a few months in Paris last. I fell of my chair when I saw what is done. Louis Vuittan Museum is also perfect. I shared the images but it is not the same with experiencing it. Your portal is architecture weighted, so you know dimension, you get it when looking at the photographs although seeing with naked eyes is much more different. At the museum in Paris, a lake has been installed in the museum for an artist’s work, there are boats shaped coffins and you sail in silence, it is very impressive. The number of the people visiting museums and the number of the artists attending are more different from the ones in our country.

But it does not mean that there is nothing in Turkey. Sabancı Museum is very beautiful, especially the latest exhibition Zero is perfect. It must be seen as soon as possible. Nearly all the walls of the museum were pulled down and transformed according to the Anish Kapoor exhibition. Think for a while, there is a lake in Sabancı Museum but inside, not outside. It requires millions of dollars each time and it needs to be supported by the authorities.

Y.S.: How do the galleries get in contact with a collector like you? Are there any galleries knowing what you like and recommending you the works?


Leyla Alaton / Küratör Deniz Artun
Leyla Alaton / Küratör Deniz Artun

L.A. : There are some galleries knowing me and my aesthetic perspective because I bought works from them. They know my style and if they have works suitable for me, they inform me. FOr instance Deniz Artun. I went to the gallery in order to see a work of an artist, she showed me the works of Mehtap Baydu and I fellin love with the. I liked very much. Deniz knows my style and because she knows what I love, she led me to see them. This is what a succesful art dealer should be.

Y.S.: At last, I say ‘art’ and I give you floor.

L.A. : Art is a fresh breath, a sea breeze, a cool forest air in these days that we are depressed. That is why people should not miss the opportunities in this city. It is difficult to understand the Bienal and visit it, so I recommend people to visit it by reading about it before visiting. It is very sophisticated, and if you do not read before seeing some works, you may think that they are crazy. It is a great work of itself to see the relations of the works in the different places in Istanbul, they should be read. Art drops into our lap, Bienal, Artınternational and Contemporary Istanbul Fair and Zero at Sabancı Museum should be visited absolutely. I think Zero is very important and valuable thanks to the works and the place. Everything is very contemporary, innovative, and if you ask my opinion, there are works in Zero much more contemporary than the works we think contemporary. I highly recommend the art-lovers to visit as soon as possible.

Mehtap Baydu, Söz Gümüş İse
Mehtap Baydu, Söz Gümüş İse

Thanks to Leyla Alaton for devoting her time to us. When it is time to take photographs, I made surprised her. Taking our photographs by mirror trick, we copied ourselves. After that she said “Alas! If there were two Leyla Alatons, we would come to the grief!” I wish there were more productive, smart and generalist women in the world like Leyla Alaton, the world would be different.


Translate; Hatice Topbaş

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