Photo Essays

Weaving a New Future for a Traditional Turkish Craft

A small group of fine artists are bringing renewed attention to the practice of weaving by incorporating it into their artworks.

Suhandan Özay Demirkan, “Triptikon – Tripticon” (2011) and “Füzyon – Fusion” (2018) (all photos by Kayhan Kaygusuz for Anna Laudel)

ISTANBUL — Weaving was a way of life for artist Ramazan Can’s nomadic Yörük ancestors, who made the tents and blankets they carried with them as they moved their livestock between seasonal pastures in Turkey. Today, the country’s nomadic culture is vanishing, as is its storied weaving tradition, largely supplanted by the mass production of carpets and other textiles. But Can is among a small group of Turkish fine artists bringing renewed attention to the craft of weaving by incorporating it into their artworks.

In “To Feel at Home” (2019) and “The Issue of Evil Eye” (2019), both part of Istanbul gallery Anna Laudel’s current group exhibition, Tapestry: Woven Tales, Can combines pieces of Yörük-style carpets with neon tubing, bent to echo the shapes of traditional weaving motifs. These works echo Can’s pieces featured in an Anna Laudel solo show last year, for which he embedded textiles in chunks of concrete, reflecting the changes development has brought to village life.

Ramazan Can, “The Issue of Evil Eye II – Nazar Meselesi II” (2019) and “The Issue of Evil Eye – Nazar Meselesi” (2019)
M. Latif Taraşlı, “Ayrişma/Dayanışma” (2019)

Another artist in Tapestry, Fırat Neziroğlu hand-weaves photo-realistic portraits. His “Renaissance Girl” (2012) stares at the viewer with a Mona Lisa-like gaze, while his installation of “Adam” (2018) and “Eve” (2018) is illuminated from the front to create shadows as striking as the weavings themselves.

“Young artists like Ramazan and Fırat are aware of traditions but brave enough to combine them with new techniques and contemporary approaches,” said academic and artist M. Latif Taraşlı, who curated Tapestry and has some of his own works in the show.

Suhandan Özay Demirkan, “Cool Jazz” (2018), “Jazz Rock” (2019), and “Techno Jazz” (2018)
Fırat Neziroğlu, “Renaissance Girl” (2012) and “Adam” (2018)
Belkis Balpınar, “Hücre oluşumu – Formation of Cells” (2015)

Few young artists in Turkey are choosing to do the same, as the precipitous decline in traditional weaving in recent decades has made it difficult to learn the techniques and find the needed materials or expert practitioners. Can’s family ties drew him to the craft, while Neziroğlu was mentored by his art school professor, Suhandan Özay Demirkan, who is also included in Tapestry. Like most of the show’s 15 artists, Demirkan belongs to an older generation, which pioneered a modern style of weaving starting in the 1970s and 1980s. One of the most influential, Belkıs Balpınar, weaves motifs drawn from strands of DNA, planetary orbits, and cell propagation into her bold, minimalist works.

Fırat Neziroğlu, “Eve” (2018) and “Adam” (2018)

Taraşlı hopes the show will be a starting point for reviving interest in and support for weaving, and for encouraging more emerging Turkish artists to see weaving as a potential part of their contemporary practice. Since the exhibition opened, he said, “artists have already started calling me to talk about how they can get their textile designs produced.”

Tapestry: Woven Tales continues at Anna Laudel (Bankalar Cad. 10, Karaköy, Istanbul) through May 24. The exhibition was curated by M. Latif Taraşlı.

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