Long-overlooked artist İsmail Saray is at SALT Galata, Istanbul. London-based artist İsmail Saray, little-known in his native Turkey, is being given a comprehensive look at İstanbul’s SALT Galata art space thanks to a new exhibition that opened on Sptember 14, marking the artist’s first solo exhibition in Turkey in more than 20 years.
“From England with Love, İsmail Saray” is the culmination of SALT’s two-year research “comprising an intensive archival process and an in-depth collaboration with the artist,” who is now 70 years old, SALT Galata said in a press release announcing the show.
The show’s title is a reference to a previous installation Saray showcased in “8 Sanatçı 8 İş: B Sergisi” (8 Artists 8 Works: B Exhibition), a group exhibition held at the now-defunct Atatürk Cultural Center (AKM) in Taksim during 1990 and 1991.According to the press release, “This invocation of the ending of a letter, signed by the artist, emphasizes the idea of distance in Saray’s practice, as also evidenced in his correspondence.”Born in 1943 in Kütahya, Saray is a graduate of the Gazi University in Ankara. During the late 1960s and early ‘70s, he studied sculpture in London under a state scholarship from Turkey. Upon his return to Turkey, he taught art at a state school in Samsun.
In the run up to Turkey’s Sept. 12, 1980, military coup, Saray’s artistic production had become increasingly dissent-driven — mainly fueled by bureaucratic obstacles.Occupied by his compulsory service as a teacher in Samsun, away from the country’s İstanbul-based art circles, Saray discovered that his position was doubly limited in terms of recognition and finding opportunities to exhibit work. He finally left Turkey in 1980 after his re-appointment to a different education institute was delayed indefinitely.Simply put, “From England with Love, İsmail Saray” is the story of an artist under-recognized in his country. There are very few texts, no books and no exhibition catalogues on Saray. Nor has the “AND Journal of Art and Art Education,” which Saray published with his wife and lifelong collaborator, Jenni Boswell-Jones, between the years 1984 and 1993, been given the historical analysis that it deserves.SALT calls its two-year research on Saray’s life and practice a “long-overdue survey,” which was based on their conviction that the artist holds a canonical place for the artistic environment of the 1970s and early 1980s in Turkey.The exhibition introduces the first phase of SALT’s research, displayed on every floor of SALT Galata. The main exhibition space presents sketches, photographic and video documentation of installations, correspondence, components of his work exhibited abroad and 8 mm films the artist made in the early 1970s.
Saray’s photographic self-portrait series “Envoy,” from 1972, is on the first floor while on the second and third floors, original works from the 1980s and full re-creations of some of his installations are displayed. For this show, which features the complete archive of the artist in digital form at SALT Research, SALT also reproduced several lost works in collaboration with Saray.Posters of exhibitions Saray participated in and a compilation of newspaper reviews are also on view. His most recent works displayed at an exhibition entitled “From Floor to Sky,” held in London in 2010, are presented on the ground floor at SALT Research.The exhibition runs until Nov. 2 at SALT Galata, after which it will be headed to Ankara for a display at SALT Ulus from Nov. 18 through Jan. 10. ✪