A Closer Look at the Work of Ece Gökalp
By Özkan Gölpinar
Ece Gökalp's recent exhibition, After Anahit, delves deeply into the historical backdrop surrounding the acquisition of a first-century BCE bronze bust, believed to depict the Armenian goddess Anahit. Acquired by the British Museum during the 19th century, and presented as the Greek goddess Aphrodite.
For the exhibition in Foam, Gökalp employed a translucent glass printing technique to craft a photograph of the bust, conjuring an ethereal representation of the goddess's bust, purposefully underscoring its detachment from its original cultural milieu. In pre-Christian Armenian mythology, Anahit assumed a pivotal role, symbolizing fertility, healing, wisdom, and water. Gradually ascending to become Armenia's principal deity, she has become emblematic of Armenian culture, adorning stamps, gold coins, and banknotes. Calls have emerged over time, without success, beseeching for the repatriation of the goddess's head back to Armenia. A move that would grant Armenians greater access to their history within local museums and galleries, obviating the necessity of travelling over 2000 miles for such cultural enrichment. To the museum, she is another head in a sea of statues and busts of ancient deities from all around the globe. To the Armenians she is Anahit, a symbol of a nation and its long lost traditions.
Ece Gökalp's art revolves around concealed aspects, erased historical nuances and other elements that evade immediate sight. Gökalp underscores that art isn't mere adornment; it stands as a potent medium for safeguarding identity and facilitating discourse. She tries to archive what we are losing and invites us to contemplate concealed and erased facets within the realm of cultural appropriation and ecological deterioration. The seeds for After Anahit were sown years before, when she embarked on the project Drying Lakes, Black Holes, about the changes caused by the politics of exploitation and destruction of our environment and nature. In 2020 two thirds of the lakes in Central Anatolia faced depletion, with their ecosystems irreversibly harmed, challenging her to archive what we are losing and what replaces that—Drought and Void.
While working on that project, Ece hears the news about the events at the so called "Dipsiz Göl" (“Bottomless Lake”), both present yet obscured. The 12,000-year-old Lake Dipsiz, located 1000 kilometers further in the North-Eastern part of Turkey, was drained by treasure hunters seeking a legendary Roman treasure, mirroring the irreversible acts that Gökalp tries to grapple within her work. From that moment on she starts to trace back the origins of the statue.
After Anahit invites viewers to reflect on what is hidden and erased in the context of cultural appropriation and ecological destruction and on how the politics of exploitation and destruction affects our nature and our identity through the annihilation of them. With her art she points out that efforts to erase history are tantamount to erasing not only the past, but also the present and future. Her work doesn't indulge nostalgia; rather, it references the past, rejuvenating it in the present. By recounting these narratives, she extends the gesture into the present, activating the unbroken chain of historical transmission. This effort strives to discern the imagery we propagate, the imagery we choose to embrace, and the narratives we permit to define us.
In summation, Ece Gökalp's exhibition After Anahit undertakes a profound exploration of cultural identity, restitution, and the art's ability to safeguard history and cultivate a sense of belonging. It serves as a reminder of the significance of embracing and safeguarding cultural heritage amidst an ever-evolving world.
About Özkan Gölpinar
Özkan Gölpinar (1968) works as a moderator, publicist, and advisor in the artistic and cultural sector. In 2015, he was appointed as a Council Member at the Dutch Council for Culture. Gölpinar worked as a program manager at the Mondriaan Fund and the FundBKVB. At present, he serves as the vice-chair of the Grants Committee in Rotterdam and the Arts Committee in The Hague. Gölpinar studied Journalism, Film & Television Studies and Film & Photographic Studies at Leiden University. As a reporter, he worked for magazines and newspapers like the Volkskrant and Trouw. Gölpinar has authored several books, essays, plays, documentaries, articles and reviews.
About the artist
Ece Gökalp is a visual artist from Istanbul. She studied photography and video at YTU in Istanbul and spent a semester at the Graphic Design Department of the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague with an Erasmus scholarship. Later, she went to Berlin to study Art in Context at UdK Berlin. Ece Gökalp has been part of many group exhibitions, mostly in Istanbul and Berlin. In 2017, she had her first solo exhibition in Apartment Project Berlin, followed by her second solo exhibition in Istanbul, with her master thesis project in 2018.
This article was created in light of the multi-year project Kısmet, an initiative created and developed in close collaboration between Studio Polat and Foam. The project is inspired by longstanding cultural, diplomatic and economic ties between Turkey and the Netherlands. Kısmet delves into the diverse and intricate facets of Turkish visual culture, as seen through the lens of different generations of image makers.
This article is part of a series under the name A Closer Look, where a selection of creative professionals, with an affinity for visual culture from Turkey, reflect on an image from one of the Kısmet exhibitions.
The exhibition 'After Anahit' is made possible with the support of the Van Bijlevelt Foundation, the Leeuwensteinstichting and Kleurgamma Fine-Art Photolab.
This exhibition is part of Kısmet, a close collaboration between Studio Polat and Foam. Kısmet has been made possible by the generous support of the Mondriaan Fund.
Foam is supported by the VriendenLoterij, Foam Members, De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek, VandenEnde Foundation and the Gemeente Amsterdam.