Zeynep Akgün

Biography:
Born in 1975, Uzunköprü, Edirne, Turkey
1993-1997 Mimar Sinan University, Faculty of Fine Arts, Department of Painting
1998-2000 Mimar Sinan University, Institute of Social Sciences, Post Graduate
Program

Awards:
1997 Ayşe & Ercüment Kalmık Foundation, 5th Painting Competition, First Prize
1997 ARTIST Tuyap Art Fair, Young Talents Competition, Honorable Mention
1996 Ayşe & Ercüment Kalmık Foundation, 4th Painting Competition, Honorable Mention

Personal Exhibitions:
2020 Shell of the Soul (Ruhun Kabuğu), Galeri 77, Istanbul, Turkey
2018 Almost (Neredeyse), Galeri 77, Istanbul, Turkey
2012 Coma (Koma), Artgalerim Nişantaşı Art Gallery, Istanbul, Turkey
2009 Stop Talking-Talk! (Suskonuş), Karşı Art Works, Istanbul, Turkey

Group Exhibitions:
2019 Down Memory Lane (Geçmiş Zaman Olur Ki…), Galeri 77, Istanbul, Turkey
2019 STEP Istanbul, with Galeri 77, Tomtom Kırmızı Building, Istanbul, Turkey
2018 A New World (Yeni Bir Dünya), ODTU Sanat 19, Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey
2017 Fragility of Now (Şimdinin Kırılganlığı), Daire Galeri, Istanbul, Turkey
2015 Editing of Reality (Gerçekliğin Kurgusu), Russo Art Gallery, Istanbul, Turkey
2012 Doomsday (Kıyamet), Artgalerim Nişantaşı Art Gallery, Istanbul, Turkey
2012 2nd Artgalerim Contemporary Art Symposium, Bodrum, Turkey
2012 Together Vol.V (Hep Birlikte V), Artgalerim Nişantaşı Art Gallery, Istanbul, Turkey
2011 Together Vol.IV (Hep Birlikte IV), Artgalerim Nişantaşı Art Gallery, Istanbul, Turkey
2011 1st Artgalerim Contemporary Art Symposium, Bodrum, Turkey
2011 Together Vol.III (Hep Birlikte III), Artgalerim Nişantaşı Art Gallery, Istanbul, Turkey
2011 1st. Istanbul Summer Exhibition, Beyaz Art-Art Harbour, Istanbul, Turkey
2011 Dream Night (Rüya Gecesi), Swiss Otel, Izmir, Turkey
2011 Connection (Bağlantı), Artgalerim Nişantaşı Art Gallery, Istanbul, Turkey
2010 Near to Us (Vicino A Noi), Ufficio Cultura e İnformazioni dell’Ambasciata di Turchia a Roma, Italy
2010 Quintessences (Quintessenze), Scuderie Aldo Brandini, Frascati, Roma, Italy
2009 Synthesis (Sintesi), Turkish-Italian Painting Exhibition, Ipsar, Roma, Italy
2009 Synthesis Movement in Istanbul (Movimento Sintesi in İstanbul), Caddebostan Cultural Center-CKM, Istanbul, Turkey
2009 My Name Is Casper, 216 Thought&Production Platform, Karşı Art Works, Historical Sümerbank Building, Istanbul, Turkey
2009 Selection from Contemporary Youth (Çağdaş Gençlerden Seçmeler), Casa Dell Arte, Istanbul, Turkey
2008 Synthesis (Sintesi), Caddebostan Cultural Center-CKM, Istanbul, Turkey
2007 ARKHE Group Exhibition, Caddebostan Cultural Center-CKM, Istanbul, Turkey
2004 ARKHE Group Exhibition Vol.4, Akademililer Art Gallery, Istanbul, Turkey
2003 ARKHE Group Exhibition Vol.3, Mine Art Gallery, Istanbul, Turkey
2000 61st State Painting Competition Exhibition, Istanbul, Turkey
1999 Group Exhibition, Galatea Art Gallery, Istanbul, Turkey
1999 ARKHE-ARCHE Group Exhibition Vol.2, Elhamra Art Gallery, Istanbul, Turkey
1998 ARKHE Gorup Exhibition Vol.1, Galatea Art Gallery, Istanbul, Turkey
1998 Adventure of Paint (Boyanın Serüveni), Akademililer Art Gallery, Istanbul, Turkey
1998 Young Activity Vol.2 (Genç Etkinlik 2), KAOS Exhibition, Tuyap, Istanbul, Turkey
1997 Turkish Heart Foundation Painting Exhibition, Istanbul, Turkey
1997 Today’s Artists (Günümüz Sanatçıları), Ataturk Cultural Center-AKM, Istanbul, Turkey
1996 Habitat II, ÖTEKİ Contemporary Art Exhibition, Antrepo, Istanbul, Turkey

Fairs:
2017 Art Ankara 3rd Contemporary Art Fair, with Sevil Dolmacı Art Consultancy, Ankara, Turkey
2012 Contemporary Istanbul Art Fair, with Artgalerim Nişantaşı Art Gallery, Istanbul, Turkey
2012 Art Bosphorus Contemporary Art Fair, with Artgalerim Nişantaşı Art Gallery, Istanbul, Turkey
2011 Contemporary Istanbul Art Fair, with Artgalerim Nişantaşı Art Gallery, Istanbul, Turkey
2011 Art Bosphorus Contemporary Art Fair, with Artgalerim Nişantaşı Art Gallery, Istanbul, Turkey
2010 Art Bosphorus Contemporary Art Fair, Arte Vista booth, Istanbul, Turkey
2010 ARTIST 20. Tuyap Art Fair, Manic Attack (Manik Atak) exhibition, 216 booth, Istanbul, Turkey
2009 ARTIST 19. Tuyap Art Fair, System Failure (Sistem Arızası) exhibition, 216 booth, Istanbul, Turkey
2009 Immagina, Reggio Emilia Art Fair, Italy
2009-2004 ARTIST Tuyap Art Fair, ARKHE Group Exhibitions, Istanbul, Turkey

Performance:
1996 OPUS 29 Performance with Eric Anderson, Atatürk Cultural Center-AKM, Istanbul, Turkey


Zeynep Akgün was born in 1975, in Uzunköprü. She has graduated from Painting Department in Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts in 1997, where she has also done her master’s degree in 2000. She has participated in several exhibitions and art fairs in Turkey and abroad, while also collaborating with the initiatives “Arkhe” and “216” in several group exhibitions. She currently resides in Istanbul, where her workshop is located in.

Zeynep Akgün generally depicts “the human nature” in her paintings. She questions the inevitability of all human beings to live under the grip of contrarieties such as between that of natural and artificial, apparent and ambiguous, sometimes as a victim, other times as an executioner, whether conscious or asleep - while also pointing out the other possibility which can never be outlooked… When choosing a side between contrasts that are indispensible facts of universal life and human nature, we are guided by our momentary instincts.

The forms in the composition leave real proportions behind when placed upon the empty space of the canvas in a traditional manner, they are aided by the infinite flexibility deriving from the conception of contemporary art instead. Sharp differences in the formal constructions also serve to create a tense atmosphere.


Reviews:
AN INTUITIVE EXISTENCE

In her personal exhibition “Almost (Neredeyse)”, with canvases filled with female figures surrounded by fancy objects, Zeynep Akgün highlights in a pluralistic point of view the chaotic and ambiguous circumstances by focusing on the female image. Creating her work with a plastic sense of aesthetics, the artist essentially depicts in a dramatic and realistic way the state of women feeling stuck and in-between, unmanifested.

Painting in a realistic style, Akgün creates nearly surreal images by building ironic compositions. Whether seemingly surrounded by nature or in minimalistic architectural plans, women who appear in her work in various actions and positions are intense renditions of symbolism, however real they may seem. Although the figure in its state of existence seems stable and dull, it also questions existentialism as a personal and social phenomenon by creating a contrast in the air and floating spaces. Actual affairs and events within the society which veer off course faster than one could keep up with trigger also the case of women living in that same social structure. As women’s personal transformation continues, the societal norms change and diversify along with it. Herein the image of woman, which constitutes the focal point in the artist’s works, expands beyond a regular state, revealing an issue that is more or less globalized: The existence and the identity of woman…

With dull gazes and earthly aesthetics, these realistic women figures in the painting are seemingly in a state of being forced to accept their place in a designated space. Exposing ambiguous moods in an ironic or even a deceptive reality, the figures also create a coherence with elements such as fancy ornaments, bright ribbons or precious gems. There is a striking contrast between the eerie, ambiguous figures and lively, marginal-looking ornaments. The bizarre but contradistinctive union between the women and their belongings are narrated in a canvas that is wallowing in empty spaces. Although women are expected to become integrated with their given identity, a new state of being that is considerably characteristic takes form within the space in the composition. As for women’s identity, it is assessed that to exist they should integrate with the elements such as flashy and bright objects, ribbons, and precious gems. This assessed, forced situation is represented by an apparent question mark on women’s expressions. The image that possesses a dull gaze seem to almost awake instinctively, come to life and oppose all these inquisitions. On these paintings, in which we approach the woman as a whole, the said ornaments are almost as big as the figures themselves. They are so enormous and flamboyant that they almost feel like jumping out of the painting and situating themselves within the real time and space. But when seen together with the figures, they pose almost an entirely opposite situation as before, competing with the women and exerting a wish of objective existence. In this sense, do these flashy objects support and reveal the figure or do they try to destroy it by suppressing it with their own vanity? This abstract situation does happen to a woman in real life, and it can attribute to an actual process of assigning new meanings to women all the while destroying and recreating them.

In Akgün’s paintings, the image of the woman is placed in the center of the canvas in a traditional approach; presented as a multi-dimensional form with a vague perception of time and space. Unlike her previous works consisting of figure-centric canvases lacking an obvious indication of space and time; in this series a certain, minimalistic sense of spatiality becomes apparent. An abstract space is created with diagonal, linear forms encircling the figure. This feeling of space which is related to a graphical and architectural language, also connects to the figure in a material wholeness. Opposing the realistic figure, a mass architectural structure makes its presence felt with paradoxical connections. Contrary to the sharp and non-communicative link of architecture, nature and images of mere trees make another kind of form apparent on the canvas and creates an organic link with a strong connection. Unlike the limited and conservative lines of spaces, proper presence of nature presents the traces of the pursuit of a new reality in the figure. In parallel to nature and architecture, the suspicious and indecisive imagery of the figure becomes in time a new, symbolic reality.

Idolizing the women by adorning them and starting to appear on the background as the contrast to a standardizing perception, natura relays a real sense of time and space by moving away from a non-dimensional one. Are those crystallized stones wrapping the figure unconditionally, or even a gift box adornment, enough to make a woman truly happy in real world? In the face of a forced and limited perception, crystallized stones or ribbons are seen as abominations, used to describe daunting and unreal situations and ideas. During the evolutionary process of the figure, affected by fantastic shiny objects, the questioning state and gaze of the woman creates a soft and transitional feeling. The woman has now started to expand beyond the shackle of pearls, diamonds, gift-wrapping ornaments and ribbons; thereby assuming her own, non-artificial identity. This transformative state of existence exhibits the status of woman eluding the doubtful gazes by coalescing into one with the tranquil nature and space. The symbolic state of the woman constituted by the tradition creates a bizarre aesthetic sense with its characterized look.

In this series, where Akgün’s work extend beyond that of mere figural approach and her portraits also become apparent, a certain evolutionary touch distinctively makes its presence felt. It is possible to see in a clear loop the figure that once looked more clearly surrounded by pearls, is now growing away from all the restraints. With every new look upon the women’s faces on the canvas, the chance of an obligatory confrontation increases. Akgün creates fictional narrative paintings in a tight space by pointing to the actual situation of woman’s image in the junction of half-substantial space and time. By breaking away from the dark atmosphere of a dream world where they don’t feel they belong to; the iconic women in her paintings shape the indicator of an intuitive irony with their state of revolt and insurgency.

Ultimately, the odd, ironic relation between reality and illusion meet and drastically collide with the multidimensional, fictive characteristics of woman’s image; just to pose this question: Against all these cheap adornments, is there an absolute truth and certainty away from all judgement for the woman?

Melike Bayık, September 2018

***
SHELL OF THE SOUL

Since the foundation of mysticism and philosophy, humans have tried to understand the dialectical relation between the body as physical being and its metaphysical essence. Mystics and priests named it soul while philosophers and social scientists called the element that separates us from the rest of the living world and makes us individual the mind. Especially in the field of philosophy, Decartes formulated a body-mind-dichotomy that underlined a clear dominance of the mind over the body and all matter that surrounds us. Besides the Cartesian Mind-Body Dualism, which aimed at solving an ancient mind-body problem by making humans pure rationalists, the metaphysical question of the soul remained a basic problem in all cultures. What is the soul? Does it exist? Does it continue existing after we die? If so, where does it go after it leaves our body?

Besides religion and philosophy, metaphysical questions play a great role in the history of art as well. From the antiques to today, artists have dealt with the issue of what makes us human, and what is the energy that drives us towards individual change?  They have gone beyond the limits of perception, measurable reality constructions and dictated versions of truth in order to reveal truth beyond logic, objectivity and universalism.

Art is a communication medium that translates the unspeakable into images. It visualizes what cannot be linearly explained, and therefore adds valuable dimensions to our limited world perception. Artists widen our scope, and therefore enrich us aesthetically, intellectually and spiritually. Many books have been written on the relation between art and the sublime, where its power to reveal the unseen, and to touch our soul has been exposed. Especially the art of painting has been often considered a valuable field of alternative knowledge production that lifts the curtain of our restricted points of view for going beyond the rationally known.

Indeed, the soul seems to be debatable, even questionable due to its invisibility and improvability. Though, for millennia, people feel that there is something beyond rationalism, beyond logic, beyond objectivism and beyond the matters of the mind. This something might be an illusion or a utopian dream. It could also be considered a spiritual occult that we invent to take-away the omnipresent horrors of death and evanescence.

Nevertheless, artists do not fear to search for alternative insights in life. They go beyond knowledge, science and universal truth in order to reveal insights that lay in the shadows of our existence. This is one of the reasons why art matters. It is a valuable addition to science, philosophy and mysticism as it has the capability to stand on the threshold between them as it creates its own form of knowledge.

The current paintings of Zeynep Akgün deal with the human body-soul-dichotomy and its impact on the way we shape our individual role within society. Her paintings shift between realism and surrealism in order to connect the known with the unknown, as well as the seen with the unseen.

At Gallery 77, the artist presents a new series of paintings, where four main elements can be seen in various variations: the naked human body, animals, fabrics and empty dresses. All parts are mostly depicted in front of a monochrome background.

The dominant element is the body, which is represented fragmentedly and anonymously without a head. Faceless torsos circle in front of unknown grounds and spheres. Sometimes interconnected with other bodies, other times in silent solitude, they are frozen in the moment. Their poses are reminiscences of dynamic movements, which seem to have taken place just shortly before the spectator had laid eyes on the painting. Muscles are flexed, while the bodies remain forever captured in a dancer-like pose. Everything stands still in the work. Time is absent and space is independent from specific locations or geographies. Although the bodies are depicted in a style between idealism and naturalism, due to their fragmented condition and anonymity they do not belong to certain people so that the spectator can relate to them easily.

The painting’s aesthetic shows affirmations to baroque and classicism as well as to the notion of an eclectic composition known from contemporary painting. The fragmental character of the paintings, the clash of objects and symbols plus their dreamy-like atmosphere open-up links to a surrealist understanding of reality. Though, in the end, Akgün’s approach is an individual one that formulates a strong position in-between known styles and movements. This is the reason why she formulates her own painterly strategy, which due to its pluralist character gives it a contemporary aesthetic plus a conceptual meaning that points to our existential struggle in today’s world.

Combined with the human body, animal figures appear in the paintings. Due to their iconographical history, especially the snakes add a mystical dimension to the compositions. Since Adam and Eva, the snake stands for the evil that tries to trick us into depravity. Sometimes, the figures seem to avoid the animals, while in other paintings they coexist in harmony. Anyhow, the pictorial relation between man and animal increases the dramatic character of the pieces and cause a powerful tension.

Also fabrics are shivering around the figures, and create compositional as well as conceptual links between the different elements of the paintings. While in some parts, they connect figures, in other cases, they protect the bodies from revealing their identity. A game of hide and seek appears, in which the spectator becomes a witness of an existential struggle for surviving. As the fabrics float through the dark space and freely circle around the figures, they also induce additional movement within the pictorial matrix.

As the last compositional element, empty dresses draw the attention of the spectator. Placed in the center of the pieces, often in color contrast to the rest of the compositional parts, they refer to the cultural meaning of clothes as symbol for social codes as well as reference to shift belonging and gender issues. A dress is more than a fashion item. It is a sign, with which we present our identity and personality. Dresses are also molds, in which we try to fit in to meet social conventions. Sometimes the dress is too tight and takes away our ability to freely move while it also prohibits us from easily breathing. At other times, it is too big, so that we struggle to keep it on and make it look good on us. Only in rare moments, it fits perfectly and feels like a second skin which makes us shine.

Zeynep Akgün contrasts the floating fabrics and empty dresses, which resemble empty shells of long forgotten ghosts, with warm and dynamic bodies. The relation between flesh and textile, the distinction between full and empty vessels, as well as the difference between physics and metaphysics create a suspense that points to the uncanny Soul-Body Dichotomy. Though, the figures in Akgün’s paintings have freed themselves from any dress, any shackle, and any social pattern. Moving freely through time and space, they become universal symbols of the individualization process of modern men and women. The empty and minimal backgrounds, the nakedness and the emptiness of the dresses underline the natural purity of the body and the freedom of the soul. In her paintings, body and soul become liberated from all earthly and social bounds in order to exist in the way they meant to be: Free and individual.

Prof. Dr. Marcus Graf
Art Writer, Curator, Head of the Art and Cultural Management Department at Yeditepe University’s Fine Art Faculty in Istanbul.