+ Semiha Berksoy
Elif Uras, Line Belly, 2011, Iznikware, polychrome, underglaze on fritware, 30 x 12 in.
Semiha Berksoy, This Beautiful Life is Paid by Death and Unites in Eternity, 1990, oil on sheet, 210 x 263 cm.
S. Berksoy Opera Foundation Collection.
Q+A: Elif Uras
How has the artist you chose influenced or inspired you?
And in turn how have you influenced those around you?
How has the audience, if at all, been influential?
Semiha Berksoy is not so much of a direct influence but more of a personal hero of mine. I never met her in person, growing up in Turkey, I was mostly aware of her as the primadonna of Turkish opera, a superstar with international recognition. It was not until I went to art school that I finally saw her bedroom installation in the Istanbul Painting and Sculpture Museum. After having seen many modern art museums in my
years abroad, I had gone back wanting to see how Turkish artists fit in the great puzzle of art history. The museum, founded by Kemal Ataturk in 1937 as the first modern art museum in Turkey, is mostly dedicated to staid and somber 19th- and early 20th-century Turkish painting in the Western mold. Away from the rooms hung with the familiar canon, behind a mysteriously closed door, there was her bedroom: a breath of fresh air, so contemporary, so feminine! Here was a woman who lived her life as art, her paintings, timeless and
humorously naïve, resonating with primal emotions and expressive force. Her art struck me as thoroughly original and her own. As in Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, she had
created a unique space that projected the image of the modern
Turkish woman: independent, subjective and revolutionary.
What does feminism mean to you? Does it influence your
practice or the way you position your work?
The imagery of women in arts is predominantly a male construct, shaped over centuries by male desires and attitudes. For me, feminism means trying to create an alternative to that.
I am often engaged with ideas and representations relating to female subjectivity caught between modernity and tradition.
Some public figures have said we live in a post-gender
condition, would you agree?
I do not believe we live in a post-gender condition. In some parts of Turkey, girls are still being denied education and women are under patriarchal or religious pressure. A defining issue of our time is the threat radical Islam presents to Western civilization and modernity. In states with predominantly Muslim populations such as Turkey, gender relations and the status of women have been and will be pivotal factors in determining whether they evolve into pluralistic societies respectful of individual rights and freedoms, or into repressive and authoritarian regimes.