[Review] Ardan Özmenoğlu at Nitra Gallery

For its first solo exhibition at its new space in downtown Athens, Nitra Gallery presents the work of Turkish artist Ardan Özmenoğlu (b.1979) under the title “What is the time in Istanbul”. An artist known for combining political and pop-culture imagery to create bright and colourful works, Özmenoğlu has developed a signature working style of silk-printing on large surfaces made of Post-it notes, where she applies the paint and then allows the little pieces of paper to change their shape freely. As a result, the printed surface becomes uneven and at points reveals the paper underneath, creating multi-layered portraits and haphazard, random textures. Humorous, captivating, and in several points utterly desirable, Özmenoğlu’s body of work at Nitra Gallery eloquently captures a historical moment in Turkey as seen from the inside, and opens it up for dialogue and reflection on the other side of the archipelago.

For “What is the time in Istanbul”, Özmenoğlu picks up a recent decision of the Erdogan regime to abandon the practice of daylight saving time and keep Turkey an hour ahead of the rest of its time zone. There’s no obligation for nations to observe daylight saving time (Japan for example has never used it), but Erdogan’s decision to switch has caused many problems and, arguably, deaths: in the Turkish protectorate of northern Cyprus, a truck crashed into a bus full of students in the early hours of a school day last November, an event that sparked local demonstrations against the government’s decision on daylight saving time: protesters argued that, had the daylight saving time been applied as usual, the accident wouldn’t have happened.

Özmenoğlu’s exhibition actively locates her work in the wider sociopolitical discussion about Turkey, both inside and outside of the country.

Back in Istanbul, locals woke up one morning last October wondering indeed what the time was — Özmenoğlu included, who had to google “What is the time in Istanbul?” in order to find out. Using the very real and pedestrian ramifications of an otherwise abstract and political decision as its starting point, Özmenoğlu’s exhibition actively locates her work in the wider sociopolitical discussion about Turkey, both inside and outside of the country. In her signature style, seven works made of silk-printed Post-its are on display, together with two sculptures. In Bridal Bouquet: What Is Beauty (2017), the image of a flower bouquet was painted with nail varnish on several sheets of glass, as if trying to recreate the real object by putting slices of it together. The illusion of a real object is very effective, but also helps us understand Özmenoğlu’s idea of depth and three-dimensionality in the rest of her works.

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For the exhibition’s centrepiece, IamIstanbul (2016), Özmenoğlu printed a panoramic photo of Istanbul on yellow Post-its, and then applied layers of white paint on top to create a fractured, tainted version of the city’s most photographed and touristy vista. Right across the room, three works depict the round steel covers of street sewers from Berlin and Istanbul, printed on colourful Post-its and embellished with beer caps, cigarette butts, and burnt matches. It’s impossible to distinguish which image is from which country if you only look at them from afar; as a result, the three works as a group reveal the uniformity of urban environments in the region, as well as how Turkey, in so many different and imperceptible ways, has been in a constant cultural exchange with the West for generations. Even if Turkey turns into a religious, isolated nation, little details like these sewer covers will always point to the secular and culturally open past that made Istanbul the cosmopolitan city it is today.

For the exhibition’s only work on fabric, an ostentatious piece of silver sequin was printed upon with the image of a mustached man and the motto “meet the Turk, he smokes for pleasure”, and then covered with purple-hued glitter (Meet the Turk, 2013). The image is an actual advertisement from an American campaign by Camel cigarettes, but its rendition in shiny materials mocks both the orientalist and masculinist stereotypes seen in the original. Right next to the glittery macho Turk hangs a portrait of Queen Elisabeth with a headscarf (Turkish Queen Elisabeth, 2015); perhaps the funniest work in the show, the portrait subverts the symbolic face of an empire that has left the Levant with a legacy of postcolonial disruption, frustration and war. 

Ardan Özmenoğlu’s What’s the time in Istanbul continues at Nitra Gallery Athens (Alopekis 34, 106 75, tel.+30 213 043 6697).  

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Nitra Gallery official website
Ardan Özmenoğlu’s official website

Images:
Ardan Özmenoğlu, Turkish queen Elizabeth, 2015. Mixed technique on post-it notes, 80×110 cm. Collage by Kiriakos Spirou. Courtesy Nitra Gallery.
Ardan Özmenoğlu, Bridal Bouquet (What Is Beauty), 2017. Sculpture, edition 1/3. Photo by Kiriakos Spirou.
Ardan Özmenoğlu, IamIstanbul, 2016. Mixed technique on post-it notes, 100×200 cm. Courtesy Nitra Gallery.

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