The dark dreamscapes of Ceren Aksungur

A Turkish artist based in Antwerp, Ceren Aksungur aka ‘Dolce Paganne’, discusses her ominous practice with STIR.

by Manu Sharma Published on : Feb 23, 2021

Painter Ceren Aksungur, better known by her pseudonym ‘Dolce Paganne’, creates eerie, morbid art that brims with a dark energy. She views the association built between her work and audience as one grounded within a sense of emergent horror; a feeling that is not immediately impressed in its full and total extent upon the viewer, but rather, one that grows steadily over the course of a viewing. She tells STIR that people describe her work as “hypnotising for a while, until they discover a nightmarish side to it”.  This is a rather apt assessment, and even a cursory glance through her large body of work will likely create a growing feeling of unease within viewers, to point perhaps, that they are compelled to look away, lest they see too much.

Pomogrenade by Ceren Aksungur | STIRworld
Pomogrenade Image: Ceren Aksungur

Aksungur is originally from Istanbul, Turkey, and has spent the last seven years living and working in Antwerp, Belgium. After exhibiting her artwork at a solo exhibition, she proceeded to form her own creative company, through which she has found work as an illustrator. While the artist does come from a similarly inclined family, she herself had never desired to pursue art in any great sense. Instead, she looks back on a happy childhood spent exploring paint and sculpture, and considers this to have instigated a natural and organic growth of creative drive within her. Still, she maintains what may be read as a healthily flexible view on artistic idioms, mentioning that she draws influence from an eclectic body of sources, and that particular inspirations have always shifted from time to time. However, Aksungur does privilege certain famous practitioners by considering them worthy potential additions to her collection, and explains, “If I were very rich, I would like to purchase a Francis Bacon, any Hieronymus Bosch, a Füsli, and perhaps a Gustave Doré. I am quite drawn to dark, expressive and even whimsical aspects in art”.

Reaping web, a piece that presents some of Aksungur’s most intricate line work | Ceren Aksungur | STIRworld
Reaping web, a piece that presents some of Aksungur’s most intricate line work Image: Ceren Aksungur

While Aksungur is an enthusiastic reader who engages with themes of mysticism and the macabre as evolved through the spiritual texts of various cultures, she does not implicitly base her art within any particular culture or practice. Rather, she views it as something that carries a sort of totemic power built through the signs and symbols she invokes, which, in turn, speaks to the deepest imaginations of her audience. She tells STIR, “Within my mind, I often compare the artist to the magic practitioner of yore. They both mesmerise people through their practice and bring about change through indirect methods. They take up the role of spiritual guides to their society”. Speaking of her recent interest with the work of Romanian historian and philosophical writer, Mircea Eliade, she adds, “A Kam or shamanic magic practitioner was described in the book (of Mircea Eliade) as designing and creating a specific costume and using it in a kind of music/dance performance during his or her ritual”. Some of Aksungur’s recent works certainly carry this ritualistic energy, creating a palpable tension between the familiar and the unknowable, and bridging the growing schism between the two, as it appears in the viewer’s mind, with a semiosis of ominous portents. Returning to Aksungur’s earlier statement regarding the relationship between her artistry and its audience, she explains, “I love creating an eye movement that transitions in its tastes from sweet to bitter. I start with a subject I love drawing, like a vintage kid’s portrait, and then look immediately to adding an aspect that totally alienates me from the main subject. Perhaps it is this divide that is responsible for the sense of unease”. An aspect of her work that perpetuates this feeling even further is the inherently psychedelic, uncanny-valley quality her characters and backdrops carry; a quality she acknowledges and expounds upon. “I also love collapsing and juxtaposing different visions, like in a dream sequence featuring the subject I am working on, or even melding highly contrasted elements such as a continuous geometrical form with a more organic, natural entity. This may be responsible for the psychedelic depth in my work,” she adds.   

Sleep Deeper by Ceren Aksungur | STIRworld
Sleep Deeper Image: Ceren Aksungur

As a practicing illustrator, the project Aksungur has worked on most recently is Seed by Ania Ahlborn. She describes it as a “retro-contemporary demon possession story” and mentions that she enjoyed every second she spent working on it. She adds that she is highly selective with regards to the projects she takes up, mentioning that Seed was a good fit for her style. Aksungur also runs Paganizma, a start-up brand that produces streetwear sporting her artwork. She is keen to watch Paganizma grow and evolve, mentioning that she would like to collaborate with other artists in order to transform it into a streetwear art gallery. The artist recently sent her work to the group show, Don’t Wake Daddy XV, which was exhibited at Feinkunst Kruger, Hamburg. Apart from the monthly contributions she makes to the virtual art gallery WOWXWOW, Aksungur had planned to present a solo exhibition in her home city of Istanbul in December 2020, however this has been placed on hold to sometime in 2021; an unfortunate result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the challenges she faced recently, Aksungur remains undeterred, and while she acknowledges the negative effects they have had on her ability to interface with a live audience, she maintains that these have affected her positively as well, treating the present situation as “a good opportunity to awaken the inner creative force”. Certainly, it is no stretch to speak on behalf of people in general and creatives in particular, and view this approach to the present paradigm as heart-warming and inspirational. It is an interesting paradox then, that artistry so macabre and ominous can, within the larger ambit of its conception and creation, signal such a proactive sentiment. Perhaps Aksungur’s work is what it truly means to dream: darkly and deeply, yet with an unerring commitment to making sense of the dream, and then to reproduce the process of its original encounter; to not so much disseminate it with utter clarity, but rather to disentangle the minutiae of the dream, and once again reconstruct it, obscuring its meanings even further.

Seed by Ceren Aksungur | STIRworld
Seed Image: Ceren Aksungur

Speaking of the future, Aksungur says that she does not believe she can maintain a total control of the trajectory her creative career will take. However, she expresses a great joy at the prospect of watching it grow, and ends with this, “My art is evolving alongside me, like a child growing up. All I can really do is keep digging a little deeper into the playground I work in”.

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