Ramazan Can showcases works that respond to identity at Art Dubai

Straddling the old and new, quiet and bold, handmade and industrial, the Turkish artist presents works that respond to his research on his culture and history at Anna Laudel gallery.

by Rahul KumarPublished on : Apr 24, 2022

I was drawn to the works of Ramazan Can at the gallery Anna Laudel's presentation at Art Dubai 2022.A tapestry that I was later told is an original, used piece that belonged to the family of Can, was juxtaposed with neon lights, outlining some of the patterns of the carpet itself. The work was dichotomous – old and new, quiet and bold, handmade and industrial – all at once. Through his art, Can responds to the ideas of identity. He investigates the healing traditions of his ancestors and has researched on the nomadic life of his forefathers.

I speak to Can about his motivations and concerns that he investigates through his art practice.

Rahul Kumar: How do you apply memory ideas in your recent works and how do you reflect them in the lives of nomads?

Ramazan Can: In the period when I decided that the works I produce should be related to my own identity, I turned my attention to the region where I was born and grew up. I followed the unforgettable anecdotes in my own memory of the region where the nomadic peoples (Yörüks) once lived. Professor Andreas Huyssen said: “For the past to become a memory, it must be expressed. The past is not found pure and simple in memory. The act of remembering is in the present. Remembrance is not the past itself. For this reason, there can be a thin rift between experiencing an event and remembering it in a representation, just as there is between the past and the present. This rift, which provides the vitality and transmission power of memory, also feeds artistic creativity.” The source of the first works I produced were the rituals performed by the healers who used traditional treatment methods in the region for the treatment of the ailments I had in my childhood, to which I was taken by my family. After doing research on these rituals, I discovered that the issue goes back to Shamanism, the belief system before Islam. This was proof that some mythological traditions still continue. During my field research on these still ongoing myths, I started to become very involved with Yörük weavings as well as the myths of the Yörüks. And I started to collect small weaving samples, especially belonging to my relatives, in the villages I wandered around. These weavings constitute all the assets of the nomads in that they are much more than a simple object of use and are easily portable. Even the tent they live in is actually a weaving object.

A newspaper article I came across in 2016 caused me to use these weavings I collected. I tried to make a reference to the results of the policies pursued on the nomads by combining a 60-year-old tent, which is a family heirloom, with a concrete block.

İskanlardayım (yüklükserisi), Yerleştirme (Beton - KılÇadır), 2016, mix media | Art Dubai | Ramazan Can | STIRworld
İskanlardayım (yüklükserisi), Yerleştirme (Beton - KılÇadır), 2016, mix media Image: Courtesy of Anna Laudel gallery

As a result of the policies pursued since the Ottoman state, the Yörüks, who had to switch from the nomadic lifestyle to the agricultural culture, switched to the urban culture in the period after the proclamation of the republic due to economic reasons. The works that I created by combining the textiles that the Yörüks, who have passed from the nomadic culture to the urban culture, put up in their cupboards to never be used again, with concrete, which is the most important industrial material of the settled life, present to the audience how a culture disappears in this distorted intercultural relationship.

I increased my field research in the process that I started to be very interested in nomadic weaving. Whenever I had the chance, I would go to the region where I was born, visit the Yörük villages, meet the people who weave, chat with them and record them with audio recordings, photographs and videos. The colours and patterns must have impressed me so much that I thought that each of them had values far beyond an ordinary object of use. During these trips I made, I collected some small patterns.

At first, everyone was hesitant because the last carpet weaver had stopped doing this 20-25 years ago. We removed the hidden ropes, which were thought to be used one day. Then, we found the loom, which is the most basic need, from one of the surrounding villages and installed it in my aunt's house and weaving started. I was recording this whole process with a camera. They asked me questions, trying to make sense of why they were weaving this carpet. A sentence during those dialogues became both the name of the exhibition I opened at the Anna Laudel gallery in 2018 and the name of this weaving, which is the most important part of that exhibition, The Work of Once Upon a Time .

Örnek (Pattern), Anonim, 2021, mix media | Art Dubai | Ramazan Can | STIRworld
Örnek (Pattern), Anonim, 2021, mix media Image: Courtesy of Anna Laudel gallery

Rahul: Your series, in which neon-lit rugs are used, reflects Jacques Derrida's theory of the primary notion in a dilemma that is taken up with the other to make sense with the latter. Could you please explain how this has affected your art?

Ramazan: As in the work The Work of Once Upon a Time, the idea of half a carpet had enough structure for what I wanted to convey, but weaving a carpet each time was extremely difficult for the people who helped me rather than me. I developed this idea a little more and started to deal with the issue from another side with other helpful materials, that is, to deal with the temporal flow of the act of extinction (past-present) and from the opposite (present-past). Therefore, such half-carpet half-neon works emerged.

After I started to use neon and carpet together, I started to question the relationship between these two materials and the hierarchy between them as an artistic expression tool. As I mentioned above, weavings, besides being ordinary objects of use, constitute all the assets of the Yoruks. Therefore, this dilemma had to be deconstructed and reconstructed, and the ambiguous areas between referent-signifier, signifier-signified had to be deciphered. Therefore, Derida's criticisms of logo centrism were guiding me at this point. Logocentrism is a stereotyped way of thinking that mainly covers our world of thought, and it is carried out on dichotomy such as inside/outside, male/female, remember/forgetting, present/absent. According to Derrida, we read the world through the window of such dichotomy. In this context, in the work created by bringing together two opposite structures, there is a usage object created with traditional motifs on the right and a contemporary practice extending in a complementary way to the right carpet on the left. From Derida's perspective, these two structures support each other. Therefore, the structure on the right gives existence to the one on the left.

Sol üstteörnek, 2018, mix media | Art Dubai | Ramazan Can | STIRworld
Sol üstteörnek, 2018, mix media Image: Courtesy of Anna Laudel gallery

Rahul: What about the references to the rituals and mythologies of shamanism? How do they shape your practice?

Ramazan: There are a number of ailments I had in my childhood, and the most important one for me right now is sleepwalking, which has caused me to reach the source that makes up a large part of my current production. I was taken to a few doctors by my family, and then, after my late grandfather said, "The child's problem is not being a doctor, but being a Ocak" - Ocak; the name of a culture formed by people who practice traditional healing methods in Anatolia.This time I was taken to a few healers who used traditional treatment methods, and I witnessed some simple rituals in the furnaces I was taken to. Later, as a result of my readings and researches on these rituals, I became acquainted with Shamanism. I learned that Shamanism, the religion or way of life of the Turks before Islam, somehow continued its existence by being articulated with Islam. Therefore, the rituals I witnessed in the healers I was taken to were related to the pre-Islamic belief system of the Turks rather than Islam. My knowledge of these subjects made me realise that almost all traditions are based on them.

According to belief, the human soul can be stored outside the body as a precaution when needed. However, as long as the body exists, the soul is in inseparable relations from the body even when it is far away, and it can come back at any time. Many rituals emerged from these assumptions. When the body disappears, the soul is freed and becomes a stray soul or settles elsewhere, perhaps regaining the autonomy it had before the body was formed. At this very point where magic and talisman started as a result of the struggle with stray spirits and secret powers, the shaman (kam) stepped in. In this struggle with the spirits, the first human being identified with the bodies of animals such as bull, deer, wolf, etc., which is stronger than himself, seized their power and painted their images on the wall of the cave. So much attention and care is given to the natural look because it is intended to give shapes as much vitality as possible and to give them the true qualities of a creature. Therefore, the striking naturalism in these early descriptions can be explained by the desire to identify with the world, which distinguishes human beings from all other living things. All objects in nature and in the sky were perceived as living beings like themselves, and they were called human or animal or a mixture of both. Thus, apart from the visible and known material world, the existence of an invisible imaginary world consisting of jinn, spirits and supernatural creatures has been mentioned. The states of this imaginary world that exist in today's myths have been the sole nourishment of my works. The frightening bodies on my canvases (Picture 5) are a crude expression of the idea known as “changing clothes”, which still exists in Sufism.

I Wandered in the Mountains for Forty Years with the Deers - Green Apple, 2015, Oil Painting on Canvas | Art Dubai | Ramazan Can | STIRworld
I Wandered in the Mountains for Forty Years with the Deers - Green Apple, 2015, Oil Painting on Canvas Image: Courtesy of Anna Laudel gallery

Rahul: Your works exhibit a dichotomy between man-made and machine-made, past and present. And most of the objects you use in your works belong to your family. How does this convey stories of immigration, settlement and identity?

Ramazan: I embarked on such a path as a result of my own search for identity, and since I belonged to a family that once lived as a nomad, I created a road map for myself through the traditions of the Yoruks. On this path, I have always tried to establish connections between the past and the present. Some of the mythological traditions that I have witnessed date back thousands of years. These ongoing myths helped me to approach some current problems from a shamanistic perspective. Namely, this methodology, which I followed while seeking answers to current problems, enabled me to establish connections between the past and the present, and caused me to compare the modern with the primitive. I even went further and produced a series of works that refer to this situation, assuming that it would be wise to use the methods of the primitive in solving the problems posed by the modern. With the introduction of weaving objects into my life, I started to examine the historical layers through these objects existing in the same tradition. Naturally, the colours and patterns attracted me so much that I thought that each of them should be considered a work of art apart from being an ordinary object of use, and I produced some works that refer to this situation.

I Am No Longer A Stranger Of This Place, 2019, Neon, Halı,Pleksiglas | Art Dubai | Ramazan Can | STIRworld
I Am No Longer A Stranger Of This Place, 2019, Neon, Halı,PleksiglasI Am No Longer A Stranger Of This Place, 2019, Neon, Halı,Pleksiglas Image: Courtesy of Anna Laudel gallery

With the prohibition of depiction due to misinterpretations of Islam, art objects belonging to plastic arts were not produced in these lands for a long time. However, the Turks transferred all their desire to create to weaving as if it was a rebellion against this situation. As a result, a very rich treasure has emerged. This is actually one of the most basic inferences that will strengthen my assumption.

Ben 10 Yaşındayken, 2021, TuvalÜzerineYağlıboya | Art Dubai | Ramazan Can | STIRworld
Ben 10 Yaşındayken, 2021, TuvalÜzerineYağlıboya Image: Courtesy of – Anna Laudel gallery

Rahul: Lastly, you often use self-portraits in your paintings and decorate the frames for cultural references. Can you give us some information about this series?

Ramazan: Yes, I have a self-portrait obsession. When I was a student, my first work with paint was a self-portrait. I loved that work very much and it created a breaking point for me. That's why I sometimes do self-portraits while looking for a new breaking point. Since I made my first self-portrait looking in the mirror during my undergraduate years, I can say that in all the self-portraits I made afterwards, I stuck to the same method to remember my respect for that work. That's why I see these portraits as a confrontation with myself. I also think of it like notes I keep about myself. Each one represents a separate moment; moments that represent different intensities of emotion in me. The work with the tag While I Was 10 represents an accident that allowed me to strengthen my ties with painting. As a result of an unfortunate accident in the fifth grade of primary school, three fingers on my right hand and two on my left hand were amputated, and I had three consecutive surgeries on my right hand to prevent tissue and limb loss. At the end of the third operation, I had to move my wrists and fingers frequently, as recommended by the doctor, and the most logical method for this was to write or paint. Therefore, this event was instrumental in improving my connection with painting. Likewise, I am painting to this day. I can say that the work with the tag There Are Dogs That Look Like Wolvesis a representation of my current state, and the work with the tag Explosion is a representation of my dreamed old age. The primitive hearing aid and roses involved in these two works are related to my deaf ear. The animals in the works represent the protective spirit in shamanism.

Portrait of Ramazan Can | Art Dubai | Ramazan Can | STIRworld
Portrait of artist Ramazan Can Image: Courtesy of Anna Laudel gallery
Ramazan Can's work at Anna Laudel Gallery Video: n.ramazancan on Instagram

STIR was a Media Partner of Art Dubai 2022 that took place at Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai from March 11-13. See the exclusive coverage here.

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