The small exhibition at Bozlu Art Project in Istanbul delights with its architecture and the works displayed within.
Bozlu Art Project is nestled in a gorgeous 19th century building called the Mongeri Building, named after its architect, in Istanbul's Sisli district. The building was built by the famous Italian architect Giulio Mongeri of St. Anthony of Padua Church of Istanbul fame in the mid 1920s on a land of 1,500 square meter and it used to be the headquarters of Bozlu Holding until 2015, according to the Bozlu Art Project website.
The Mongeri Building, which carries traces of characteristic architectural elements special to the Classical Ottoman architecture, is an authentic building that reflects the spirit of the era with its ceramic panels livening up the building and its sharp arches.”
Visitors are advised to take in the beautiful building from the outside before they climb the terrace steps and enter the building through the balcony door. The statues outside the building are the work of Kazim Karakaya, who has another piece in the exhibition inside, called “I Am Still Alive.”
The title of the exhibition, I Am Still Alive!, is, on one hand, an obvious reference to the coronavirus pandemic which has upended our lives on a global scale, but it goes deeper than that. The group exhibition, which has been extended until January 30, 2021, “explores from a contemporary perspective humankind’s lifelong endeavour to continue to exist (conatus) in the face of its finite nature, based on the theme of ‘self-portrait’ deemed for centuries in art history to be a trace of the artist’s existence.”
With the exception of Sinan Demirtas’s massive charcoal on paper series of autoportraits, Seesaw, created in 2019, all of the works in the exhibition have been produced during the pandemic by local artists.
The title of the exhibition owes as much to Edvard Munch as it does to the pandemic. The famous Norwegian painter lived through the Spanish flu pandemic, and has painted two self portraits called ‘Self-portrait with the Spanish Flu’ and ‘Self-portrait After the Spanish Flu’. The artist had contracted the virus that killed millions himself and depicted himself in that state. His two artworks “are as much a reflection of the overall society’s cry and struggle for survival at the time as they are of the artist’s state of mind during and after his illness.”
The exhibition’s third reference after the coronavirus and Edvard Munch’s Spanish flu paintings is Japanese artist On Kawara’s 900-telegram series “I Am Still Alive,” which Kawara sent his acquaintances starting in 1970.
“Underlying our thematic decision to focus on self-portrait, which has throughout history been a way for artists to declare ‘I was here, I lived’, a manifestation of their desire to leave behind a ‘mark’ of their existence,” curator Ozlem Inay Erten says, “is an attempt to look at the impact and experience of the personal and societal trauma caused by the Covid-19 pandemic we are currently undergoing, and reinterpret it through the artist’s body and self-image.
“As we withdrew into our homes due to this pandemic on a scale rarely experienced by humankind, not only did we come to confront our own selves but also our relations with our environment and environmental issues that will perhaps bring about the end of the world. This introspection and confrontation gave rise to a new kind of ‘self’ in terms of our existence, and I believe it is now time to define this new ‘self’.
“No matter to what extent all these experiences have torn apart our sense of self, we are still seeking ways to cobble it into a meaningful whole and keep ourselves alive. We have brought together this exhibition wondering, among other things, how the anxiety provoked by the deep sense of uncertainty we are shrouded in will stir our imagination and what kind of insight we may provide into these hard-to-describe emotions we are experiencing at once with the rest of the world, through what we think we are most familiar with – our own bodies.”
The artists who have taken part in the exhibition are Kerem Agralı, Ali Alısır, Ilgen Arzık, Sinan Demirtas, Evren Erol, Tülay Icoz, Kazım Karakaya, Meliha Sozeri, and Gamze Tasdan. Their works can be seen on the entrance floor of the Mongeri Building until January 30, 2021.