Ali Elmacı, has had some changes in his life recently. And here we are with Özlem Ünsal at his studio pigging over Turkish pastry and asking the artist about all the novelties in his career. Why did he fall apart with his gallery X-ist which he has been working together since forever? The art scene is panicking over the chaos in politics and to its reflect on the market, what’s Ali’s take on the subject? Is he looking forward to work with a gallery again or does he want to proceed as an independent artist? What’s up with the sculptures? The artist went to school in İmam Hatip, which are the religious high schools but ended up as a non religious artist, how did he get out? Does democracy exist today in the Turkish Republic, did it ever exist before AKP?

Yusuf Aygeç, Ali Elmacı, Özlem Ünsal and Gülben Çapan
Yusuf Aygeç, Ali Elmacı, Özlem Ünsal and Gülben Çapan

Ali Elmacı’s studio is in Kadıköy Yeldeğirmeni Mahallesi which can be translated as the village of the windmills, where other important artists like Mustafa Horasan and Erdoğan Zümrütoğlu and many more also have their studios. So a village of windmills and great artists altogether just makes me ask where Sancho Panza might be hidden? 🙂

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Anyway let’s get back to the real stuff and have a look at the artists artworks. As you all know or better know, I love Ali’s work along with a million of others in the country. He is direct with his figures, not hiding their vicious greed, stripping his characters out from their fancy looks and just showing them as they are but not exactly how they seem in the real world. Ali’s vibrant colors and details smoothen the story on the canvas but can never overtake or mask the horror in their eyes and teeth. His use of knives and pistols, blood and cuts in the most colorful way makes me remember the famous nursery rhyme, “Ring around a rosie, a pocket full of posies. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.” Few people realize to what this seemingly happy little nursery rhyme actually refers. This nursery rhyme began about 1347 and derives from the not-so-delightful Black Plague, which killed over twenty-five million people in the fourteenth century. Although its horror we look at, he tells his story like a fairytale for kids. And that is what makes me love his work! The cunning mastermind behind the real thing…

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Abdülhamit Sultan as Ali Elmacı

We all know you from your amazing paintings. Tell us where the idea of making a sculpture came from?

I was working on two different series, one is ‘I cannot answerback to your feelings Osman’ criticizing the new “Ottoman” ideology. The other is to do with Tv and its daily soap opera criticism named, ‘When the beautiful ones fall in love with eachother the ugly ones were cheering in happiness!’ And the sculpture is actually a mix of both of these series.”

The sculpture is quite realistic in height and form and it looks like you used it as a canvas with paintings all over it. There even is a painting of the last Ottoman Sultan on the belly of the figure but the eyes and details of the face resemble you more? “Hah yes that’s me actually. I do look like Abdülhamit anyway:) Sculpture has always been something I wanted to do. I see it as a kind of 360 degrees painting because I wanted a sculpture that I could turn all around it and see different paintings on. So my canvas became the sculpture.”

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What is the series on Tv and soap operas actually dealing with?

Well recently all the soap operas I see, it seems like Turkey is in its utmost stage of welfare everyone living in huge historical villas on the Bosphorus and everyone is just so damn bloody beautiful. Richness is like something we find in every home in the country and we actually feel sorry for the ones who are not poor but just less rich. Cause everyone is rich! Where are the poor and ugly? Not on Tv, they are the viewers, us! We are the ugly and poor. So this series of artworks undermines the perfection on TV and the wannabe’s in reality. That’s why I pictured double heads sticking out from the sculpture as well as the painting. One as we are and the other as we think we are.

Why do you always use knives in the figures mouthes?

Because its a weapon we all can have access to the easiest. It has been here since humanity ever existed and still is easily in our hands since then.

Your works have strong hidden political messages, have your works ever been censored?

No, never and I hope censorship will never apply to anyone.

You don’t work with X-ist gallery anymore. Was there an incident that ended this partnership or did the love just fade away after all those years? 

I worked with X-ist for 6 years, it’s a very good gallery. But my break with the gallery doesn’t have to do with an incident of any sort. It was a mutual break up.

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Are you working with any gallery now? Or do you want to lead your own way as an independent artist?

No I do not want to become and independent artist. I’m looking forward to work with an Istanbul based gallery but I still don’t have a name yet.

So you won’t be in Contemporary Istanbul?

No I will be participating in Contemporary Istanbul 2016 with a foriegn gallery based in South America, named Isabel Croxatto.

With which artworks will you be participating?

With the sculpture and the dog series.

Dog series?

Yes well its the series I worked on after the 15th of July Coup in Turkey. I believe it made everyone feel like a hero. Everyone feels like they made huge success and everyone is a hero. In this sense I chose to the little dogs which are small in size but have the ability to bark and attack larger dogs. And this makes us ask the question if they really are hero’s or not? Just like in the coup attempt, was everyone a hero? Was the feeling of being a hero very accurate?

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What is your personal point of view on the coup attempt on 15th July?

I’m against all kinds of violence and coup has never been any good to this country in the past whatsoever. And of course I did not and do not think that the coup was a staged theatrical act. I believe there really was an attempt. But I also think that the fight with a coup attempt ended up with another coup within the country. Apples and oranges got mixed up and the party in power trying to supress the coup actually developed their own coup.

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Do you think the mix in apples and oranges, the consequence of history end up in a civil war?

Well I hope not! And I do not believe Turkish people will let that happen. Smaller groups might fight with eachother but I doubt this will effect a larger population and the majority of the country.

The cleric in exile Fethullah Gülen has millions of followers/believers within Turkey. What question comes to your mind in this puzzle, what is missing?

Education! Fethullah Gülen has been in the system for 40- 50 years. If you have an education system distant from positivism and closer to religious communities then this is not a consequence to be surprised about. If the İmam Hatip religious schools were not increased maybe we would be in a more democratic, secular and free Turkey now.

But there were just as many restrictions and obligations before AKP too, they were just not towards the same group of people. Do you really believe Turkey was a more democratic and free country before AKP?

No, it was not a free and democratic country before AKP either. I believe this country could never really practice the real definition of human rights and freedom throughout its history.

Is there hope?

Yes, there always is hope. Gezi is an example to this.

The political chaos is said to affect the art market as well and that the artists cannot sell as many artworks. Have you been affected personally?

Personally I haven’t been affected at all. I’m happy with the progress of my works.

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You also studied many years in the İmam Hatip religious schools. How did you end up an artist?

Yes I studied in İmam Hatip religious school in Amasya during my middle school years which is equivalent to 4 years. It was more than enough for me!

 How did you end up going to a religious school, was it your choice?

No absolutely not, it was my family’s choice. My family is from Sinop and they are a little religious. So they wanted me to proceed in high school in İmam Hatip as well.

How was your years in İmam Hatip?

The education there was very far from science it was more of a system that obligated you to obey and not question. They are schools that help form the substructure of the party in power that is why I find them dangerous. We had classes like history, English and even art in middle school. But we didn’t have freedom of choice. I got beaten up many times by my teachers because I wasn’t agreeing to their order and I wasn’t getting along with the idea of being there. I was always the odd one out in the group.

How did get out?

I was the weird kid in class that always stared at the wall and skipped most classes and didn’t obey their rules of obligation. I was seen as the crazy kid in school. So I went up to my family and said I quit school.

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Then?

Then they sent me to a vocational high school so that I at least would have a job:) I studied in becoming an electrician.

And how did you get into art?

I was always into art but it took a long way to head that direction as I had to work to earn money first. After I finished high school I moved to Istanbul and started working in a company as an electrician. That lead me to meet people in the arts and then I got into Fine Arts academy and started building a career in the route that was my own choice, finally.