The “backing layer” of fragile life

Leylâ Gediz, one of the leading figures in contemporary Turkish painting who moved to Lisbon in 2016, opened her first solo exhibition in Portugal entitled “Layer From Background” at the Lisbon TECLA Play. Gediz said: “In my exhibition you will see some of the work I have done since the beginning of the pandemic, so the last two years, with a work from my last exhibition, which I opened in Turkey in 2019. Especially the three or four pictures that I took at breakneck speed after last summer, when I said goodbye to my father, inspire me because they are fresh.”

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Even though immigration is discussed as a burning issue on Turkey’s agenda, some of us have already realized ourselves as immigrants. The painter Leylâ Gediz, who moved to Lisbon in 2016, is one of them. At least for me, whose reference is Maslow and who chose the same city as Leyla for the same reasons and went through the same concerns, it certainly is. Leyla keeps her life, which she has built on the extreme shores of Europe, free from the practices of “local and national” communities and keeps thinking about being included, excluded, creating and reproducing. It’s so precious…
We spoke to Leylâ Gediz, one of the leading figures in contemporary Turkish painting, about her first solo exhibition in Portugal, Layers From Background, which she opened at TECLA Play in Lisbon.

When and why did you move to Portugal?

In 2016 I moved to escape Turkey’s suffocating political universe, at least for a while. The negative effects of this universe on the art world I find myself in and on my personal art production were also at work in my decision. I’m talking about the need to take a political stand before any other artistic concern. I was afraid that I would eventually get stuck again. To prevent this and develop an alternative discourse, I decided to look at Turkey from abroad.class=”medianet-inline-adv”>

How is life here reflected in the creative process?
Life here exhausted me for the first four years. I have had to try very hard in every aspect of life to create the conditions in our home and live it as if it were our normal state. If I would say in relation to my artistic practice, it wasn’t the production part that made me tired, but the relation to the art environment here. Not speaking the language at all and not being able to speak it well enough are among my biggest obstacles. However, the externals I faced pushed me to cling more tightly to my own universe and polish the traits that set me apart. As a result, I think I’ve done extremely competent, mature, and subjective work. This happened spontaneously.

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What awaits us thematically and technically in your first solo exhibition here?
In my exhibition you will see some of the work I have been doing since the start of the pandemic, so the last two years, with a work from my last exhibition which I opened in Turkey in 2019. Above all, three or four pictures that I took in a hurry after last summer, when I said goodbye to my father, inspire me because they are fresh. As well as works that can be considered derivatives within the still-nature tradition, I will also have fiction that incorporates the character. Most of my paintings, all oil on canvas, are allegorical. While pointing to one thing, they evoke or challenge something else. I compose charged compositions that I try to touch the inside of the viewer. I often describe the in-between as an emotion. I welcome transitional, fragile, insecure, distressed and rebellious states. I am close to music and poetry. I also manage to bring funny or absurd situations to the screen, although not as often as I would like. In this exhibition I have taken a stance of extolling the unfounded and celebrating the fact that every ending leads to a new beginning.
I have a work that denounces the racism that we see everywhere. I made pictures with games, pushing the boundaries of painting and my own skills and researching. But the architecture in which the exhibition takes place is also important here. We are in the courtyard of a building designed by Bartolomeu Costa Cabral, one of the most important architects in Portugal, before the revolution but only partially completed in the early 80’s. In fact, it’s an unusual, difficult space where interior and exterior spaces are intertwined, mostly of metal and glass, to display pictures. These difficulties and blood intolerance make it necessary to find new and creative solutions. In that respect, I’m also curious. I want to convey this enthusiasm to the audience.

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How do Portuguese art institutions and environments relate to a non-Portuguese artist?
It depends on which institution it is. For example the Gulbenkian Foundation and Museum, which is one of the two main supporters of my exhibition – my second supporter is the SAHA Association. Since I am from Istanbul, they were very interested in me from day one. You know, Calouste Gulbenkian was from Uskudar. At first I felt uncomfortable in this situation, which means my roots play a crucial role. But my attitude changed when I realized that I was faced with an environment that allowed me to express my discomfort and was willing to listen to me with all my opposing views. I agreed to serve as a panelist at the museum and attended a workshop the following year. The notes from this workshop have been displayed in the museum’s section housing Islamic artifacts. Two miniature paintings I made during the workshop were presented to the audience here, with special attention from department head Jessica Hallet. This exhibition, which will continue through the summer, brought my paintings together with priceless museum objects. I have no doubts about the sincerity of the museum’s interest in me, for my two small paintings are contemporary in thought and attitude, alternative and even humorous. They don’t try to be compatible. I am proud of myself and the institution that I was given this freedom.
But the institutions that interest me are limited to the Gulbenkian Museum and Foundation for the time being. Although most Portuguese institutions tend to support and exhibit their own country’s artists with a national sentiment, the changing and developing Portugal needs a change of attitude to include many artists who came from abroad and settled here . I think we will see more and more artists in my position at temporary exhibitions. They are not really closed. But unless you’re a world-renowned artist, you’ve got to prove yourself to them. This also requires a lot of patience. When I moved here I knew it would be a long time before they would really take me in, that I would have to stick it out for at least four years. At that time, of course, I wasn’t just sitting around doing nothing, but trying to build real friendships. I think I’ve acquired a small but nice environment that won’t leave me alone in my first exhibition, which is more than enough to start with.

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Leylâ Gediz’s exhibition entitled “Layer From Background” can be seen at TECLA Play in Lisbon.

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