For (Y)Our Eyes Only by Hale Ekinci
Opening Reception: Saturday, June 17th from 6-9 PM
Exhibition Runs: June 18 - July 16, 2023
In Turkish, the words for “you” (sen) and “I” (ben) share common letters, and there are no gendered pronouns. Everything in the natural world is “o” in the third person, and you and I overlap intimately. This imprecise language, double-meaning words, and absurd sayings leave room for playful interpretation - misinterpretation of the world. How we mutually understand each other is contextualized by the cultures we belong to and the languages (both verbal and visual) we share. The works in For (Y)Our Eyes Only by Hale Ekinci are encoded textiles, circumventing power structures and creating a place of humor and beauty where the othered finds a place of connection. Ekinci yearns for the shared letters of ben, sen and, in that yearning, creates a new visual language where empowerment is disrupting systems and establishing new ones; there is strength in an inside joke.
Ekinci spent her childhood and much of her young adult years in Turkey, the homeland that she brings in and out of focus throughout her works. Collaging together fiber techniques, found textiles, and images from family archives, her work explores phases of acculturation, immigrant identity, and ideas about gendered labor. The decorative fringes on many of her works are influenced by the Middle Eastern tradition of Oya (lace edging on a headdress) and its use of symbolic patterns that serve as a secret language between women to express personal sentiments that otherwise remain private out of necessity. Influenced by Islamic ornamentation, her art references a mixture of coded symbolism such as Oya and kilim rug symbols.
Ekinci creates adorned, intercultural photo transfer portraits framed with oya on bedsheets. The people get repeated or turned into patterns themselves to intertwine the “individual” into newly configured “collectives” or to perform multiple personalities. She layers embroidery and painting over them to further muddle the identities. The domestic surfaces, like used bed sheets, hold personal and bodily history, invoking feelings of home and intimacy. Similar to the construction of identity, these come alive through an additive process of embedding symbols and densely layered imagery. The obscured portraits play with the malleability of identity and cultural representation while combining domestic and fine arts materials, aesthetic traditions, and symbols of women’s work.
The draped fabrics are framed with colorful crochet and mimic traditional oya styles or make up new motifs like the “green card” edging, reflecting her contemporary reality. Ornamentation can seem like a mere beautification tool but it can also trigger tension by teasing us. It can proliferate and overwhelm the figure it initially sets out to embellish. This method echoes the different acculturation strategies- integration, separation, assimilation, or social marginalization. Mimicking this ploy, the ornament and the figure perpetually displace each other as the definers of identity and what is actually in the periphery.
Hale Ekinci is a multidisciplinary Turkish artist based in Chicago. She received her MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts & Media at Columbia College Chicago and is an Associate Professor and Chair of Art & Design at North Central College. Focusing on personal history, cultural identity, gender politics, and craft traditions, her works vary from videos to embroidery paintings embellished with vibrant colors, patterns, and autobiographical relics. She is currently the Engaged Artist-in-Residence at the Gayle Karch Cook Center for Public Arts and Humanities at Indiana University. She was recently a Spudnik Press Cooperative and Facebook Chicago Artist in Resident. Her work has been exhibited nationally at EXPO Chicago, One After 909, Woman Made Gallery, South Bend Museum of Art, Koehnline Museum of Art, St. Louis Artists’ Guild, and Queens College Art Center. Her videos have been screened internationally, including in New York City, Berlin, Warsaw, and Jerusalem. She has completed residencies at ACRE, Jiwar Barcelona, Momentum Worldwide Berlin, Elsewhere Museum, and Chicago Artist Coalition.