Severed Heads

Head 1

This beautiful work by an art student in New York  and my wish to share it with you has finally put an end to my procrastination.

After the hectic energy and motion involved in getting together my most recent bit of installation art, “Have Your Photograph Taken as an Ottoman Princess”; followed by total paralysis in response to the piece’s sudden removal from the Bodrum Biennial under mysterious and rather disturbing circumstances; and a gradual thaw that involved slow travels along the Mediterranean coast and fast times with friends and family in New York, which, gratefully, brought me back to myself… well, let’s just say, things are back to normal – if you can call editing a magazine, writing a grant proposal and cooking a Turkey – all at the same time – normal.

A propos this posting, the grant proposal had to do with a project for a workshop on ‘community arts’ here in Bodrum. That idea was prompted by the experience of putting together the ‘Ottoman Princess’ exhibit – and then having it taken down. As a piece designed to raise awareness about violence against women – all kinds of women – and the Turkish legal system’s tacit acceptance of this violence through court decisions that reduce the sentences of the perpetrators (usually husbands/ex-husbands and boyfriends/ex-boyfriends), I thought I would have the support of women in realizing this exhibition. In fact, I had a lot of women – as well as men – support the piece financially, but finding a woman’s advocacy group willing to contribute to the content of the piece was difficult. Moreover, it eventually became clear to me that the decision to remove the piece was due to a combination of fear and mistrust – by women!

Princesses on the truck_sm.jpg

Luckily, however, there have been a few women (you know who you are) who have given me the encouragement to try and find another place to exhibit the work and, just as important, if not more important, to continue doing work that keeps me in the world rather than just in my studio, and to encourage others to do the same.

Reading up on ‘community arts’ confirmed my belief that there are two things that art is really good for. The first is self-expression, and the second is community expression. A lot of times, the second type of expression comes more in the form of ‘expression about community’ than ‘self-expression by members of the community’, but when you manage to get both of those things together, well, there you’ve really got aesthetics in the original sense of the word, which had as much to do with moral satisfaction as it did with sensual satisfaction.

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Back to where this post started out: the clay sculptures created by students in the Forensic Sculpture Workshop, a class offered through the New York Academy of Arts’ Continuing Education program, are reconstructed facsimiles of unidentified crime victims that “capture the likenesses of unknown citizens who faced cruel and untimely deaths from a variety of gruesome circumstances” created by students and displayed in the university’s windows in the “hopes that someone walking by the university windows will see a face and recognize it.” As the program’s director explained to the Huffington Post, the program is “the perfect marriage of art and science. Having students use art and their extensive knowledge of anatomy for a bigger purpose and real world application to help the community at large was an opportunity worth waiting for and one we hope to replicate for years to come.”

head group port.jpg

I find poetic the fact that the ‘community’ being represented here is a community that, up until these art students became involved, had lacked representation in the literal as well as the figurative sense of the word.

And I’m impressed that this all took place in a continuing education program. Presumably, all the students in the class could have chosen to take a sculpture class that would have allowed them the opportunity to focus more on their own self-expression, but instead they chose to focus on the expression of someone else.

To read the Huffington Post’s story about the program, click here.

A TYPE OF SKETCHING, A SKETCHING OF TYPE

A TYPE OF SKETCHING, A SKETCHING OF TYPE

(Preparations for the installation “Have Your Photograph Taken as an Ottoman Princess”)

So, the goal was to have a bunch of different ‘types’ of women to represent the range of women that you might see on any day on any given street anywhere in Turkey. In fact, you probably wouldn’t see all of them on the same street at the same time, but you might; I’ve seen all these ‘types’ myself, so I know.

OP desktop1

Let’s be clear here: There’s a difference between ‘archetype’ and ‘stereotype’. I really started to notice that when I began working on the sketches in more detail, and felt that there was a certain direction I should be going in – more accurately, that there was a certain direction I shouldn’t be going in. The only difference between ‘archetype’ and ‘stereotype’ might be that an archetype has no negative connotations and a stereotype does. I certainly don’t want to be a stereotype. The problem is how to tell one from the other. I wanted make sure that each ‘princess’ was a different type without being a stereotype, but how? And why?

I’ll open up these 2 topics in a minute, but first, to quickly address the issues of ‘why “princess”?‘ and ‘why “Ottoman” Princess?’:

  1. The ‘Princess’ (and certainly not the Turkish ‘prenses’) in ‘Ottoman Princess’ does not refer to a member of a royal family, it refers to ‘what we call little girls’. It suggests a lot of things, and I hope here it evokes two opposite ideas: first, the idea of being ‘special and privileged’ and second, the idea of being ‘frail and in need of protection’. In either case, the ‘princess’ is NOT real. And it’s important to realize that ALL THE PRINCESSES ARE BASED ON REAL WOMEN, BUT NONE OF THEM ARE REAL WOMEN.
  2. The ‘Ottoman’ (‘Osmanlı’- from the ‘Royal House of Osman’) in ‘Ottoman Princess’ is not connected with any contemporary sociopolitical effort to distinguish between ‘Ottomans’ and ‘Turks’. The idea to use the image of a 19th-century ‘Ottoman’ woman along with 21st-century ‘Turkish’ women came from the fact that the original engravings of Ottoman women were NOT images of REAL women: they were images of a Western fantasy of Eastern women; in other words, they were filled with ‘ideas’ about ‘others’: They were saying (in a visual language), ‘THIS WOMAN IS SOMEONE WHO I AM NOT.’

So, now that that’s out there, back to the questions of why I want to present images of ‘not-stereotypes’ and how I am going to do it.

OP1   OP78

Why: because (as the 19th-century Western male artists and publishers of ‘Ottoman Princesses’ probably knew), it’s easy to dismiss someone who is ‘other’ (read: inferior, mistaken). It is less easy to step into their shoes (or in the case of my installation, into their clothes) and try to see what it is that you have in common with them, try to understand them.  I think that is important, but I don’t think it’s easy; heck, I don’t understand all the princesses, and I’m the one making them!

Interestingly, the PROCESS of making them is helping me to understand them. I wonder if this is what a novel-writer goes through when s/he invents a character. I am sitting with these sketches on my work table, and I am trying to understand, ‘WHO IS THIS WOMAN?’

One princess seems to ‘want’ to have her hair coiffed up (Trying to impress someone? Or forced into a social role?), another has short hair (Easier to handle? Oh, my god, is she a lesbian with a buzz cut??),  a couple of princesses have cell phones in their hands (at the moment; I’m still not sure if this ubiquitous  21st-century is going to be replaced with something else), and one has got a garden tool and some kind of vegetable (at least she will;  or maybe she’ll be holding some weeds. I can’t decide yet).

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Interestingly, the easiest woman for me to draw has been the one who is covered in black from head to toe. It’s easier for me, because I don’t have to decide what she’s got on underneath; I don’t need to know if she’s wearing high heels or sneakers (or high-heeled sneakers), a high-buttoned blouse or a sleeveless t-shirt… In short, she’s the ‘princess’ I least understand. She’s also the one I LEAST want to be. I must admit, I am having a hard time feeling any empathy for her. I don’ particularly like her – which is strange to say, because I’ve already admitted that I don’t really know her. If I don’t know her, how can I say I don’t like her?

And there in a nutshell is what this is about.

(I’ll be posting more on this project here. If you’re interested, be sure to “follow’ this blog. You can also “follow” the Ottoman Princess blog to see what happens after the exhibit opens (‘more to come’), and sign up to the Ottoman Princess facebook page for all types of related information (which you can add to as well).

Ottoman Princess : The Blog

Update: My latest installation – “Have Your Photograph Taken as an Ottoman Princess” – will be included in the upcoming Bodrum Biennial opening on 12 September.

In addition to information about the project (in Turkish and English), the Ottoman Princess blog will post news about violence against women in general (unfortunately there is a lot of that) as well as artwork addressing the issue. (Since there appears to be more bad news than good news, I would particularly welcome contributions of good news from anyone who has any. The best way to pass on this news is by joining the Ottoman Princess facebook page (in Turkish and English) and posting there, and I’ll repost to the blog.)

People who visit the exhibition and have their photos taken as an Ottoman Princess will also be able to post them on the facebook page, and I’ll repost to the blog, so that they’ll form a running exhibition catalog.

Finally… Since I try to give a high priority to ‘demystifying’ what it is that artists do, I’ll try to post ongoing information about the process of putting together the exhibition. For the background information on the exhibition, you can go to the Indiegogo Ottoman Princess page. The project is already funded (thanks to all who donated), but the site will be up through the 15th of August, which is the official end of the fundraising campaign, and it has the most detailed information to date.

OP5Ottoman Princess 2

I’ll be posting here on this blog, so please ‘follow’ if you want to get the updates on the proect, and then I’ll either be linking or reposting to the Ottoman Princess (have to get the ‘technical details’ worked out on that).

And as they say somewhere, ‘Thank you for your interest.’

Medium Practice (For Ayni)

This post is for Ayni, who liked my little notebooks and wanted to know if she could buy something and have me send it to the Netherlands.

Besides just being a wonderful person, Ayni will always have a place in my heart for introducing me to someone who could ask me “In what medium do you realize your practice?” with a straight face.

So, to answer that question in a size that will fit in an (albeit large) envelope:

2000 women installation shot

Not a great photo, but those are 2000 watercolor drawings of nudes from my installation ‘2000 Women’. Can Özgün of the British Council wanted me to do something special just for him – with the excuse that my other installation ‘Nü-Nar’ (Nude-Pomegranate) wouldn’t ‘fill the gallery space.’

Antalya nunar installation

I redid the ‘Nu-Nar’ installation in Antalya (sorry – another bad photo) – and I think it shows that Mr. Özgün was wrong about the space, but right about getting me to do some more work.

What can I say? I guess I am just one of those artists that needs to have a deadline.

By the way, I ‘recycled’ the ‘Nars’ for an installation called ‘Manav’ (Grocery) done in an empty shop that used to be – ta da – a grocery.

Manav (Deborah Semel Demirtaş)

I had to sew them all together to get them to stand up, but I could rip a couple of stitches and pop one in an envelope for you to hang up, Ayni.

Or, if you want something else to hang up, how ’bout a mouse?

super fare

Or maybe a bird?

pembe kus

Both of these were from an installation I did a few years back.

Ayna Bahce-Filmler_agactaki kuslar (Garden Filmstrips_Birds in Trees)

So, in what medium do I realize my practice? Trees?

Actually, I’ve got a couple of really nice sculptures made from trees, with a little rebar, but they wouldn’t fit in an envelope.

But I could send you a couple of little drawings of some cotton pickers…

Soke Pamuk toplayanlar 1

but you’ll have to get your own painting easel to display them on.

I suppose you could just hang them on a wall, like a ‘regular’ drawing…
Swimming

ishik

Although I’ve been told that these are ‘too dark’ to appeal to people.

What people, I wonder?

(Oh, and as far as medium practice goes, these ‘regular’ drawings are oil pastels that started out as photographs that I digitized and then altered in photoshop and then used the altered photos as sketches that I printed out on drawing paper and drew on top of. FYI.)

Lots of practice.

Kisses,

Deborah

Wisteria Books

So, I made these books last month, see?

little wc books 3 blittle wc books 3 f

Back when the wisteria was in full bloom here in Bodrum.

Here we call it “Mor Salkım” – in other words, “Hanging Purple”.

Boy, it was just hanging all over – I even followed Fadime’s advice and made some Wisteria Jam –

believe it, or not.

little wc books 4 flittle wc books 4 b

I just collected a bunch from my friend’s wisteria vine – which I sat in front of all day drawing,

back on one of the first nice days of spring/summer.

And I had such a good time making these little notebooks (fronts, backs, and in-betweens),
I thought I’d make some more.

So I went down to the seaside to draw.

little wc books 1 f little wc books 2 b little wc books 2 f

That was back just before ‘the season’ started.

That is the most deceptive time of year.
So many of us out there, artists, trying to figure out ‘what to make to sell to the tourists.’Frankly, I make some pretty nice stuff. But as any successful salesperson will tell you,
‘A good product is not enough.’

And as I could tell you, (and often have, probably), I lack the ‘salesman gene’. (I mean, check out
my Etsy Shop; no, wait: I haven’t gotten around to maintaining that since… wait, I’m thinking, since…)

Well, I guess I was just having such a good time making these little books, and I thought they were

SO NICE,

that I just ‘plum forgot’ that I’d likely never be able to sell them – or at least not at a price that
would make it worth my while to sit down and make ’em as ‘business’. Fun is fun, and making a dozen or so
little notebooks for no money is fun; but making like a hundred or so? No Fun.

So, now, I’ve got these little notebooks, see?

little digiprint notebooks 1

And I’ been thinkin’, I ain’t gonna make any more of them, see?

little digiprint notebooks 2

So – should I give them away as presents? (Could do…)
Or should they get themselves turned into an installation, somehow? (Could do…)

If I sent ya a notebook, would you write in it? (Maybe…)
Maybe even send it back to me so I could read it? (Maybe…)

Hmmm….

A Rambling Post After a Long Winter…

Is there a word that means what happens after hibernation?

If there is, that is what’s happening here, in Bodrum, in my house.

Built as a ‘summer paradise’, it can be a winter hell. Not because there is nothing to do – as many a lady, tired of endless handicraft courses, may opine – but because the infrastructure sucks. That means your house is cold, because there’s no insulation. Which leaves you susceptible to very tiny creatures crawling around your insides and wreaking havoc – creatures that are probably crawling around inside your tap water…

That’s where I’ve been this winter.

After putting together an exhibition for International Women’s Day on March 8, I thought I would take a few days off to go up to Foça and plants some artichokes and some trees, and when I came back to Turgutreis, the bugs got me. (Insert frowny-face.) Slowly-slowly, though, things are starting to turn green on the outside (of my house), and a rosy-pink on the inside (of me), so it may be time to start gearing up for springtime: Better late than never, isn’t it?

A friend – I forget who – was expressing a slight bit of jealousy in that I could always ‘just post pictures’ on my blog, and that I did not actually have to write anything. In fact, because of ‘the medium in which I realize my practice’ – to quote some grad student somewhere – I don’t necessarily have pictures to post, even though I most certainly have started working again.

I suppose I could do a drawing of the inside of my brain, but that might not be pretty. So, rather, a list:

1. Thinking about ‘spatiality’ – how not every place is the ‘right’ place for every work of art.
2. Thinking about ‘collaboration’ – how not everyone appears to be ‘into it’.
3. Thinking about ‘drawing’ – how, in spite of the fact that it is probably of more benefit to the draw-er (artist) than to the draw-ee (audience), it could have potential as an enjoyable source of income.

As they say in Turkish, ‘cemre düştü’* – so I guess it’s time to translate 1, 2 and 3 into a., b. and c.

a. Write that paper for the conference on Spatiality at Mimar Sinan University in Istanbul, and fill out that application for the 2nd Bodrum Biennial  so that I can exhibit the installation ‘Have Your Photo Taken as an Ottoman Princess’ at the Bodrum Castle – ‘nazar değmesin’** – a ‘right’ place for it.
b. A couple of projects to be written, or implemented, or both…
c. Have already cut lots of paper to size to continue with the ‘water paintings’ series as soon as this latest cold-snap ends – ought to start investigating exhibition opportunities… all suggestions are welcome (Insert winkyface.)

As a reward for having gotten this far, here are some pictures:

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what comes up in our water-logged ‘garden’,

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‘Giant Fennel’ (‘körek otu) taking over the lot next door, and

Good Govt on country detail 2

A little detail of springtime in the countryside of 13th-century Sienna,

all of these providing inspiration for ‘1, 2, 3, a.b.c.’

(For more pics, just scroll down or click on a tab or two…)

*’ the heat has fallen’, ie, ‘spring has arrived’

** ‘don’t let the evil eye touch it’, i.e. ‘protect my luck’)

Women in Art

The following  pictures are from the installation titled ‘2000 Women’ from 2000 that featured 2000 drawings of naked women. The drawings were all copies of about 7 classic nude images from artists ranging from Reubens to Degas.

After the exhibit, I thought that a better title might be ‘Backfired’.

2000 women installation shot
(unfortunately, best resolution I’ve got – sorry…)

That’s because the original intent of this piece – together with ‘Nü-Nar’ (‘Nude-Pomegranate’), another installation in the British Council’s gallery in Ankara – was to raise the issue of the commodification of women through art.

With 2000 women, I thought that the entire piece would turn into a giant abstract work that would in some sense supersede the individual drawings (200 per month over a 10-month period, 50/week, Mon-Friday, 10/day). In a sense it did, but in a sense, it did not. Horny men still expressed the most interest in the big-busted blondes, whereas they had less appreciation for well-drawn feet and faces.

I thought I would post these today, 4 days after a young woman in the southern Turkish city of Mersin was murdered by a would-be rapist.

The first photo below is another exhibition shot, but the next 2 are pictures of some tea trays I decorated using parts of some drawings that had been in the exhibition. Over the weekend, I had a box of about 200 of the drawings on sale at an open-air Bazaar in Turgutreis that hoped to breathe some life into the dead downtown of a tourist trap in winter and earn some money for some women trying to improve their economic circumstances.

Money – Sex – Violence – Power.

These are the things that ‘art’ messes with.

In the meantime, my husband and I happily celebrated Valentine’s Day with a dinner out on the town:
I’d rather celebrate love than excoriate hate.

Let’s see how to ‘tag’ this one, folks.

 

2000 women detayi fuzzy

 

Tray- Caryatids

tray - angel w winged bowl

 

 

A Couple of Old Columns…

So, in my last post I was discussing strange shapes, or, more specifically, how I like to work in formats that are not in the usual Golden Mean of proportions – namely, squares, or columns.

Lately, I have been working on a lot of vertical collages (just browse some of the earlier posts here), but this format is nothing new. Way back when (in graduate school in Baltimore), I got infatuated with columns – part of a general interest in architectural decoration. After a couple of long, tall paintings on wood, I got the opportunity to install some ‘real’ columns in a church in Baltimore. The occasion was a small exhibition of installations I was organizing at the back of a space that was being used for theater performances; the church had had a fire that had done some serious damage to the main hall, so until they got the funds together to replace all the pews, they were holding services in a smaller room on the other side of the church and using the pewless hall for art – bless them!

The pictures below are the only images I have of the 2 columns (had old slides turned into JPEGs last year 🙂 ). The columns were made out of sonotubes, i.e.concrete formwork, which I sliced in half vertically so that I could work on them and then put them back together around the existing church columns. Once I managed to get the tubes to fit in the elevator to my studio, things were pretty straight forward – except for a little difficulty that I might refer to as the ‘pop’n’fresh effect’ (picture a giant toilet paper tool trying to uncurl itself). I covered the surfaces of the columns in a layer of plaster mixed with plastic, another layer of acrylic paint, and then metal leaf, and then drilled holes for Christmas lights – as, luck would have it, the existing church columns each had an electric outlet at the base: plugged in, I had some pretty flashy columns…

With the theme of religion as inspiration (!), the 2 columns were a Goddess Column and what I refer to as my Crusader Column – or, from a more modern perspective, “Black Man, Blue Man”.

Column - brown man Column - blue man

This has been fun, this “Blast from the Past” – makes me want to do some more big sculptures. (I believe one side of the lower half of the Goddess Column went to a friend of mine in California, but the other parts are long gone to the landfill…)

Homesickness (Sıla Hasreti) Installation

Homesickness (Sıla Hasreti) Installation

title

 

Homesickness (Sıla Hasreti) is the name of the installation I created with collaboration from a lot of other people, including

Deniz Defne Acerol (sculptures)

Hope Holtzman (tapestries)

26 students in the 4th-grade class of Jale Toprak, a teacher at Akyarlar Elementary school, whose students I have known since they were in the 1st grade,

and artists from Turkey (Istanbul, Balıkesir, Antalya, Bodrum), Spain, Iceland and the US, who sent original mail art that arrived via traditional post n time for the exhibit, which was held at the Şevket Sabancı Culture Center in Turgutreis-Bodrum from 18-28 November 2014. You can download the catalog here:

Sıla Hasreti Homesickness PPS Catalog

Anyone interested can also contact me for the audio file of students reading their poetry (in Turkish).

Below are some more pictures from the exhibit.

You can also view the mail art one by one by clicking here.

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The sand is from Long Island, the Old Bay seasoning is from Baltimore, the tapestries are from Dereköy and the drawings from Akyarlar.

inst8

The lonely kitty is from Deniz in Istanbul.

 

 

inst7 The photographs and wine cup are from Avanos.

 

inst12

The tapestries are Hope’s from Dereköy

St Louis - Whoopee Bowl

The drawings are of all the places I’ve lived and miss – from St. Louis…

 

 

Aachen - portcullis

to Aachen…

Brooklyn  - Carroll Gardens Neighbors

to Brooklyn.