2008 Text by Necmi Sönmez (ENG)

The ABC of a Different Kind of Political Art: “State Paintings” On the New Projects of Özlem Günyol and Mustafa Kunt Necmi Sönmez

Working in Frankfurt since 2001, Özlem Günyol and Mustafa Kunt are heading towards very interesting themes in their projects, both together and individually. Their themes consist of the political and social implications of contemporary art, which are not very frequently visited. The two artists won various prestigious grants in Germany and started a successful career at an early stage. The “State Paintings” series, which immediately follow their former exhibition, opened at the MMK Zollamt (9-31 Aug 2008), the project space belonging to the Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt. The series define the boundary of their idiosyncratic narrative that they have wrought with a characteristically critical interrogation. This boundary is crucial because it points to the beginnings of a mature period, which could also be seen as a narrow and long path where the category of the young artist is left behind. Before starting to interpret “State Paintings,” it is necessary to refresh our memories with a little information on the two artists. Since they both have participated in various group exhibitions, but not have individually exhibited their art, we need to learn about their former work.

Özlem Günyol (b. 1977) uses the techniques of painting, sculpture, photography, video and installation simultaneously, and has a special interest in the space where her work is going to be exhibited. The dialogue she forms with temporality displays a special attention for the architecture and has characteristics that cannot be explained at once.

The images in Mustafa Kunt’s (b. 1978) photography, painting, design, sculpture and video work tell us that he is in search of a narrative that feeds both on the Surrealist technique and on the iconographic elements peculiar to the cinematic form. It can be noticed that such combination of different techniques has created a kind of rhythm in his work. His passion for literature is also made manifest via the literary quotations and images.

The reason I introduced these two artists separately was because I wanted to emphasize the fact that they produce both their joint and individual work after a complicated decision-making process among a variety of artistic strategies. Günyol and Kunt’s most recent work entitled “State Paintings” consists of revealing the intricate designs in the passports of different states. The passports, which they have obtained from their friends, have pages that are ornamented by designs that are not very clear to the naked eye. Günyol and Kunt enlarged these designs with special techniques and have juxtaposed them in a way that is typically seen in the medieval manuscripts. Next, they gathered them in the form of a big leather volume with the impressed stamp on the front cover that says: “State Paintings.” This leather volume, which at first can be mistaken for a Codex borrowed from a monastery library is exhibited on a high pedestal. Despite its small size the passport is a highly effective document. Since it is valid only when one crosses the national boundaries, it reveals a sense of belonging of those people who leave their cultures behind. At the beginnings of the 21st century, we are categorized and assorted according to the passports. This is a time in which mobility might be beyond touristic purposes, such as immigration, which sometimes comes up as the only means of survival. Passports play an important role in the process in which identities are categorized, in which prejudices are formed. The fear from global terror eliminates all human rights and when combined with the visa regulations that define the boundaries of our mobility, passport becomes a key tool. Unfortunately we are living with the reality of those democratic countries who categorize people as first, second, third and fourth classes, and treat people cheap when crossing the boundaries. If you are expecting habitation allowance or chances for education, passport acquires yet another status. By enlarging the passport pages and revealing the motifs, which were inscribed by special techniques of stamping, Günyol and Kunt are making seen what was not seen and thus, ironically criticize the state-individual relationship. Oddly enough, the designs in the “State Paintings” are in the manner of an ornamental book; they seem to be a collection made up of a repetition of abstract motifs. Composed by the designs each published on a page, the collection even has a decorative quality. It is as if the spectators are browsing though the pages form the famous researcher Franz Sales Mayer’s book Handbuch der Ornamentik (1927). But what is at work behind these motifs are totally different. The country of the passport imposes an identity to the individual by way of the culturally informed designs that is not perceptible to the naked eye. The individual, starting from the moment he leaves his country, has to continue living with the identity the state has provided him with.

Günyol and Kunt, in a way that could be defined as the ABC of a different kind of political art, pay attention to the issues of belonging, identity and class. They not only point to the fact that there are words to say but also by using a minimalist language, they create space for thoughts/imagination. Rather than a critique of capitalism and liberalism, “State Paintings” series very plainly reveals the way in which political classification pinches the non-European individuals living in Europe. The series is a powerfully ironic critique of the European political discourse which might said be gradually becoming more and more racist, closed, and intolerant of differences.

“State Paintings” were exhibited between 18 September-19 October 2008, as a part of the exhibition “Anywhere I Lay My Head / Made in Turkey” at the Römer9, the venue which belongs to the Evangelikan Church City Academy.

Translation from Turkish: Özge Özbek


Sanat Dünyamiz-The ABC of a Different Kind of Political Art: “State Paintings” On the New Projects of Özlem Günyol and Mustafa Kunt by Necmi Sönmez
NO : 108 Güz 2008, ISSN 1300-2740, page; 182-185