Mara Sartore in conversation with Ahmet Güneştekin about his new project titled“Million Stone” – which will be unveiled in Venice on the occasion of the 56th Venice Biennale – and about his art.
Mara Sartore: “Million Stone” is the title of the exhibition you are presenting in Venice on the occasion of the 56th Biennale. “Million Stone” symbolically represents the history of a city once believed to be the centre of the world, a city with many names, a crossroads for different cultures and religions. How does the history of the city of Istanbul relate to your life, to your past and to your childhood?
Ahmet Güneştekin: I first heard of Istanbul when I was a child. I used to read books and see videos about it and always dreamt of going there one day. I first went to Istanbul in 1986, to take my Academy exams, and that first encounter with the city deeply influenced and surprised me, I was in awe of Istanbul. It was there that I became aware of an important truth, realising that the backwardness of my hometown had come with me all the way to the city. When I saw the back streets of Istanbul I understood that along with their troubles and sorrows people also carry their destinies with them. All I experienced and witnessed there made me think of a saying of one of the brightest names of Medieval Islamic philosophy – Ibn Khaldūn – “Geography is destiny” and the philosophy underpinning this statement: people carry their past and their geography with them, wherever they go. I carried my own destiny to Istanbul.
MS: You are a self-taught artist. Art is a passion that has driven you since your childhood. Could you tell us about your personal approach to art and about the process you undertook to find your self-expression and style?
AG: All the tales and oral culture I have been exposed to since my childhood have influenced the hue and pattern of the works I produce. I did not receive an academic training and I have found my own path instinctively, through trying and exploring. However, I have always been aware that art also flows from knowledge and philosophy and this is why research and the understanding of new ideas have always been a priority for me. I believe that I am very lucky in this respect; the long-term father-son relationship I had with Yaşar Kemal was an important training for me.
MS: When I visited your studio in Istanbul, I was surprised twice: by the amazing location so close to the Galata Tower, and by the uniquely “layered” structure of your studio. One enters at the top floor stepping into a daylight-flooded office and then starts descending towards the lower floors, where daylight gradually disappears, with no windows opening on the magnificent Bosporus, all the way down to the bottom floor where your studio is. It feels like a descent to the underworld. This relation with darkness is even more surprising if one considers your colourful paintings. What is your relation to light and colour?
AG: During the years I spent travelling throughout Anatolia and Mesopotamia I learned and compiled many stories and listened to a variety of tales and folk songs. It was like seeing all the colours created by the sun, and it seems as if that light and those colours engraved themselves into my mind and body. So now, when I want to express light and colour through art, I realise that in fact I do not need a bright environment. I prefer to reflect on those colours and stories from a dark place, through silence. My entire body is light and colour. I don’t need further light.
MS: One of the leitmotifs in your artworks is the coexistence of the three different monotheistic religions. Could you tell us more about this idea?
AG: I was born in a country where different languages, religions and identities coexist. All holy prayers, weddings and deaths become apparent along with their sounds and colours. I grew up surrounded by all these colours and I never felt that I belonged to one in particular, nor that I was obliged to make a choice. This is the reason why I always prefer to interpret these three religions on an equal basis considering one as the continuation of the other. Regarding multivocality as equality enabled my art to become multicultural as well. This is an immense acquisition for me.