Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism.
ISTANBUL, Turkey — In the summer of 2015, the scorching Urfa sun beat down on the painter Sidar Baki as he became an artist. He had just been awarded a regional prize named after the social realist painter Nuri Iyem. For the next two years, he worked in the majority Kurdish region 180 kilometers from Diyarbakir, his birthplace. One day, he had an epiphany at his home studio, where his latest piece stood on an easel beside full bookshelves. He stopped and went to the kitchen.
“I did something. I think I found it,” he told his wife, Gulsah, who is also educated in art. They sat down for dinner. A bomb went off. It hit a government law building within earshot, blasting debris through the shattering windows that ripped through his new painting. The couple returned to Istanbul that year, where Baki studied at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University before accepting a teaching post in Urfa in 2013.
Working in ground zero of Turkey’s civil war, which continues despite peaking in 2016, Baki became claustrophobic. He felt stuck in his studio while the spacious Mesopotamian plains beckoned outside. The setting offered his acrylic palette a blend of white noise and red alarm, as for “Nowhere 10” (2019), the only landscape painting at his debut solo show, Nowhere.
“Nowhere 10” is awash with radiant wisps of cloud cover against muted blues imposed over a narrow horizon of distant badlands. A quartet of boys crowd around a point in the ground, staring down, in contrast to the wide, open earth around them. The cold green soccer field is pressed with stark gunmetal grey tones textured with tire tracks and gravelly depressions.
Throughout his career, Baki has integrated expressionist and abstract affinities into his figurative scenes with a streetwise visual vocabulary. He captures the dystopia of making art in the face of armed conflict, as he experienced in Urfa. Its post-traumatic effects are in his work. Even in Istanbul, he endures similar pressures. He paints above his apartment in an attic studio too small to show his work.
Born in 1981, Sidar Baki has painted professionally for two years. He is not sure that his paintings are art. That is for others to decide, he says. His upbringing in Diyarbakir was limiting. At school, he was not allowed to speak Kurmanji, a northern Kurdish dialect, his mother tongue. He is taking his career slowly, recently refusing an invitation to give a talk at the inaugural STEP Istanbul event — a downtown art exhibition, neighborhood tour, speaker’s series and workshop program co-organized by Contemporary Istanbul. That said, C.A.M. Gallery will show his work at Contemporary Istanbul, the city’s flagship annual art fair.
Nowhere is at C.A.M. Gallery in Istanbul’s downtown Çukurcuma district, where many galleries moved following numerous attacks at art openings since 2010. Last year, Mahmut Celayir, a painter from Bingöl near Diyarbakir, showed abstract landscapes at C.A.M., shredding newspapers under subliminal color fields referencing the Kurdish flag. Months prior, Pg Art Gallery next door held a show by another young Diyarbakir-born artist, Hasan Pehlevan, who graffitied his op-art onto buildings slated for demolition and afterward pieced them back together from the rubble.
Baki lives and works in Gazi, an inner city neighborhood 20 kilometers from Istanbul’s core, where many Alawites live alongside internally displaced Anatolian youth who tag political slogans in public spaces.. In turn, the municipality covers them with rectangles of yellow paint, which Baki quotes in his paintings. He teaches art to fifty students at a time in the crowded, public middle school close to his home. It pays for supplies, and he gathers insights on developing his visual signature in the process.
He has painted derelict warehouses since his 2015 Nuri Iyem Painting Award gave him the confidence to identify as an artist. Nowhere introduces child figures in his work. A glimpse inside his school demonstrates his passion. There is barely a corner, from the classroom halls to the basketball courts, where his students have not drawn, painted, and sculpted. He teaches them well beyond the curricula about innovators like Picasso and Mondrian.
His paintings, “Nowhere 2” and “Nowhere 7” (both 2019), are more characteristic of the exhibition. Reimagining urban “sacrifice zones,” a term for wholesale environmental devastation originating from nuclear fallouts during the Cold War, he foregrounds the youngest generation as they process life in a 21st-century city. The children in his fictive warehouses merge urban plans, construction sites and schoolyard games in white chalk scrawled like the naive lines of Cy Twombly. When I asked, Baki admitted that he did not know Twombly. His earliest experience with art was watching the film, “Lust for Life” (1956), starring Kirk Douglas as Vincent Van Gogh.
Three of his new paintings are free of architectural realism. “Nowhere 18” (2019) pictures a child seated on an immeasurable, dusty chalkboard, sketching apartment complexes, heavy machinery, street lights, and planes overhead. The installation, “Nowhere Land” (2018), by the artist and professor Ferhat Özgür addressed related subject matter at Kasa Gallery this past winter. Özgür photographed children confronting the blockaded city of Sur, Diyarbakir, in 2016.
In contrast, Baki has internalized firsthand experience with Turkey’s civil war, and the displaced urban migration that has resulted. He paints in solidarity with youth whose new, concrete homeland is under construction. His work is a testament to a generation of children living between pasts and futures unknown. Together, they emerge from nowhere, make it somewhere, and call it home.
While staying as a house guest, a naked Le Corbusier defiled Gray’s minimalist, color-blocked walls that were only restored in 2015.
Keep your friends close and your bad art friends closer.
Hear from Holly Jean Buck, Carolina Caycedo and David de Rozas, Simon Denny, Elizabeth Hoover, Renee Kemp-Rotan, Joseph Kunkel, and more at this free public event.
In his new book, Tyler Green argues that landscape was Emerson’s method of glorifying territories shaped and bordered by white men.
“The 52-hertz Whale,” which sings a song at a frequency no other whale uses, is a social media phenomenon. But this film shows that the phenomenon says more about us than whales.
EFA Open Studios offers a portal into the creative habitats of over 65 artists working in Manhattan’s longest-running studio program, including Dannielle Tegeder, Wafaa Bilal, Cui Fei, and Anina Major.
The unvarnished photographs celebrate the lives, beauty, and resilience of an oppressed group at Chile’s social peripheries in the 1980s, and the series was recently acquired by MOCA in Los Angeles.
51 international publishers and galleries showcase their latest editions in prints and artists’ books at this free public fair, which is fully online this year.
The University of Virginia researchers wrote that the data “provides compelling evidence that these symbols are associated with hate.”
We are waiting for spectacle and when the quotidian, yet incongruous actions occur I wonder whether there is any real payoff coming.
Tanega’s approach to mark-making comes across as stream of consciousness, as if she’s engaged in a conversation with herself.