Istanbul’s Galeri Zilberman Redefines Heroism in the Middle East
“Minor Heroisms” is the loaded title of Galeri Zilberman’s fall show—one that surfaces the personal and political concerns of a new generation of Middle Eastern and international artists. While traditional Persian art and miniature painting eulogized epic battle scenes and ancient mythologies, contemporary artists have turned their focus to the personal, everyday heroics of life in the Eastern world. It is now considered a heroic act to simply live, love, and express one’s views in this part of the world.
The overtly political exhibition curated by Nat Muller opens with a disrupted ceramic sculpture by Burçak Bingöl. Through a special glazing technique, she applies weeds collected from Istanbul’s Gezi Park (the site of heated 2013 political protests) onto a vase that is partially buried in a ceramic blob. The object reads like a cultural and political relic. The motif extends into her drawings of floral scenes, which incorporating Gezi Park plants and create a textured fresco applied to the gallery’s walls.
On the wall across from this natural decal, another Turkish artist, best known for his acerbic humor, Extrastruggle, conceals the sentence “We will fuck this nation over” in a script strewn with Ottoman Cintemani symbols and eyes. It is a prophecy allegedly uttered in a leaked tape in 2013 by a businessman implicated in a corruption scandal related to the current Islamic government—an administration that takes enormous pride in its Ottoman past and has a reputation for intolerance of views other than its own.
Gold leaf is a prominent feature of traditional illuminated manuscripts, and Imran Qureshi applies it liberally in two new paintings from a series called “This Leprous Brightness” (2015). The blood red explosions of acrylic made with meticulous brush details over gold are stunning. In another context, the saturated bursts might be interpreted as visualizations of love, but placed within the violent atmosphere of the Middle East, they become difficult to look at.
Iraqi-born Swedish-raised Hayv Kahraman takes a scene from a 12th-century Iraqi illuminated manuscript, strips it of its original background, and replaces all the male characters with images of herself. This subversive and yet serene canvas of earth tones issues a warning in Persian script: “The protector is also the thief.”
Aisha Khalid’s illuminated cubes recall the Kaaba, the inner sanctum of Mecca’s sacred mosque. Femmy Otten’s wooden wall relief reads as a deconstructed love story. And Azade Köker appropriates imagery from an Ottoman miniaturist to build her large-scale, saturated collage showing the tension between good and evil. All provide personal investigations of faith and love, connected to Eastern history through narratives and techniques borrowed from miniature painting.
“Minor Heroisms” is on view at Galeri Zilberman, Istanbul, Sept. 2–Oct. 24, 2015.