Art Radar explores the work of young Turkish artist Ramazan Can.
Anna Laudel Contemporary’s most recent exhibition features the Shamanism-inspired works of young artist Ramazan Can. Art Radar looks at the work and the artist’s practice.
Due to the quantity and variety of its display, “Once Upon a Time…” gives audiences the impression that the artist behind the exhibition has been making art professionally for more than a decade. But really, this solo show at Istanbul-based gallery Anna Laudel Contemporary is by a young, emerging artist named Ramazan Can and it just looks into his works from 2013 until the present.
Born in 1988 in Manisa, Turkey, Ramazan Can showed promise in the field of arts ever since he was boy. Seeing that he had the knack for drawing, his primary school teacher, Zeynep Çiçek, suggested that he get a formal education in the arts to his parents. The idea that he was meant for the arts was reiterated when Can reached high school, as it was during those years that he was introduced to artist Sait Civcioğluhis by his teacher Özlem Günsal. Sait Civcioğluhis, who was responsible for training students for the faculty of arts entrance examinations, influenced the artist’s decision to be schooled in the arts and work in the field professionally.
After graduating in 2011 from Gazi University, Faculty of Fine Arts, Department of Fine Arts Education, Can completed his degree at Gazi University Fine Arts Institute Graduate School of Painting in 2015. Today, aside from expanding his Shamanism-inspired oeuvre, he continues his education at Gazi University Fine Arts Institute Painting Department, Sufficiency in Art Program, and also serves as a Research Assistant in the Painting Department of the Faculty of Fine Arts in the same university. Aside from having four solo exhibitions in his artist resume, Can has also been part of many notable group exhibitions in Ankara, where he currently likes and works.
Although he had always been creative, Can notes that it was only in 2011, when he graduated from university, that he began making art professionally. He shares with Art Radar:
If you ask the first artwork that I produced as a professional artist, then I would say it was a painting of a Shamanic monumental figure that I produced in 2011… [And] What led me to produce art as a professional artist was my big passion in Shamanism. That was almost like a personal misery for me that I need to investigate and producing artworks on this theme helped me in my discovery.
Shamanism and art
Like many young artists, Can decided that his early works had to revolve around identity, and in order to articulate this theme, he studied his beginnings – the place where he was born and raised as well as his dominant childhood memories. The latter, of course, included moments that were haunting, which in his case are the traditional treatment rituals that his parents employed to address his sleepwalking. Can spells out:
For a long time these rituals (eg. melting lead, burning esfand seeds…) have been very scary for me, but then they’ve become the main source of my inspiration. As a result of my research on these rituals of Anatolian nomadic culture, I found out that these treatments [can be] traced back to Shamanism, which is the belief system in Anatolia before the arrival of Islam. The connection of Shamanism with today’s belief system is like a proof of the continuation of traditions rooted in ancient mythology.
As mentioned earlier, Can created artwork after artwork to dive deeper into Shamanism, and this resulted into a large body of works that put forward different concepts of the ancient belief system. Most dominant in the artist’s early works is the concept of the shaman or the individual who bridges the corporeal world with the world of spirits. In his series, “Shamans and Demons”, which also happens to be the title of his first ever solo at Gallery Foyart, Ankara in 2015, he comes up with oil on canvas portraits of shamans, which give audiences an idea of the kinds of rituals they would perform to communicate with spirits (e.g. animal bones and drums).
Complementing these shaman portraits are other oil paintings that express man’s awareness of the spiritual world and the belief that he can draw strength from the forces that dwell in the more powerful creatures. The latter is best captured in the series “Shamans and Animals of Power (Animal Gods)”, which makes use of wood as its canvas, reflecting how the people back then would continuously attempt to connect with nature. In relation to flat wooden surfaces, Can also uses wooden boxes: every plane here contains painted images of wandering spirits, which the shamans have to deal with.
Regarding the “demons” element of the mentioned series, this is most evident in Can’s metal sculptures. Here, he brings to mind the other reality of spirits – that some of these are actually demonic and are responsible for catastrophes.
Other than painting on flat surfaces and making use of wood and metal, Can’s art also features unconventional materials such as meat and, for his “Saci” series, bone and fabric for his other pieces that further explore primitive worship objects and ancient rituals. Perhaps the most eye-catching in “Once Upon A Time…” is Can’s combination of fabric, specifically carpet pieces, with concrete (in his “Cupboard/Attic” series) to capture the disappearance of cultures due to modernisation. Asked if he ever suffers from having too many art forms to work with, Can underlines this aspect makes creating more interesting. The artist enthuses:
As a matter of fact, the opposite of this situation would be painful for me. I would suffer if I have to work only on painting or on sculpture – that would have been very monotonous for me. One thing to clarify though, I am working on multiple mediums not to avoid monotony but because this gives me the chance to pick the medium that would express myself better, that’s my only criteria for choosing the material that I am working with.
If one were to look closely at Can’s oeuvre, his pieces do not just parade his interest in Shamanism; they also comment on today’s pressing issues, such as how people have become insensitive to the demolishing or fading of cultural products, how man still have so many questions about death and its meaning, and the role and layering of memory and myth in figuring out one’s identity.
“Once Upon A Time…”
While this fairytale phrase connotes memory, history and the mythical, the artist chose to title his solo exhibition “Once Upon A Time…” for these were the words that came out of his relatives’ mouths as he was just starting to integrate carpets and rugs into his works. Can narrates that since the fabrics with traditional motifs that were being sent to him were “musty and damaged”, he had to request his relatives to produce new ones based on the old models:
I remember from my childhood that new rugs and carpets were produced by looking at the old samples, so I asked my relatives to reproduce one of the materials they sent me… My mom, aunts and cousins got together [to] reproduced the carpets by their own hands by using the old traditional weaving techniques. [But] the last time they hand-woven a carpet was 17 years ago. First I had to convince them to do that of course, when I talked to them, they asked me ‘what will you do with these old stuff produced once upon a time, these are ancient; people will think you’ve gone mad!’ This question gave the exhibition its name.
Noting how thematically harmonious his works for the past five years are, Can concludes:
I think that my work can be described as a mythical research, a journey and this is also a very personal matter. For this reason I think that I will keep producing works within the same theme in my thirties as well but of course it not possible to know what future holds.
Ramazan Can: On Art
Considering that Shamanism and ancient beliefs inform his work, Art Radar asked Can what his views about the purpose of art are – if art is simply a means to comment on current issues or, as old beliefs would dictate, a doorway to healing. Here, Can notes:
Criticising today’s issues is the first step that leads us to recovery. However, this can only happen if only we propose something new along with our criticism. Art is definitely a way to remember and restore cultures that were erased by modernity, at least for me, [this] works. I discovered Shamanism as a result of my investigations on nomadic culture in Anatolia. In other words, while I was investigating a culture, which is nearly extinct today, I discovered a bigger treasure named Shamanism, which has fed that culture for ages, and I think that while commenting on today’s issues in my works, the best way is to use this treasure.
Ramazan Can’s solo exhibition “Once Upon a Time…” is on view from 1 March to 20 April 2018 at Anna Laudel Contemporary, Bankalar Caddesi 10, Karaköy, Beyoğlu, 34421 Istanbul, Turkey.
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