Ahmet Güneştekin

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Ahmet Güneştekin

The Alphabet of Memory

1 October 2019 – 30 March 2020

Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku

Memory and Immortality through the Looking Glass

As of October 1, Ahmet Güneştekin’s expansive and imposing solo exhibition The Alphabet of Memory opens at the Heydar Aliyev Center in collaboration with Marlborough Gallery. Sponsored by Daax Corporation, the exhibition brings together the artist’s some of his earlier and most recent masterworks exploring the concepts of memory and immortality through the language glass.

The Alphabet of Memory includes works of the artist which speak about the specificity of the memory and the search for immortality through the language glass and color space. It shows how the language affects the way we carve up the world into concepts, how we organize these concepts into elaborate ideas and how they affect our thoughts. Curated by Emin Mammadov, the artistic advisor of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, the exhibition runs through March 30, 2020.

The exhibition involves Recm Nasimi, which the artist has dedicated to Nasimi, a romantic poet of Azeri origin. Chamber of Immortality, an incredible artwork that is horrific, grotesque, hypnotic and beautiful at the same time the artist succeeded in creating. Wish Tree which is a spiral-like amassment of metal that conveys a sense of rotation from the distance, consists of bicycles, entangled together and piled up like in a dance. Encounter which seems like a huge barcode that has to be scanned to decipher and decode its contents when viewed from a distance. And a select body of works such as The Backyard of God, suggests a reading of the story of the Garden of Eden, not as a tale of the origins of sin and death, but as a tale of a chance of immortality, briefly accessible to humanity but quickly lost.

The artwork Recm Nasimi consists of a cage, in which black letters of the alphabet are found; they are lying there in clutter as though thrown into it and oozing out of the latticework. Likewise, letters are lying scattered around the cage, with a few of them even in color. Recm is an Arabic term and means “stoning”, an act prohibited under international law whereby apparent delinquents are tortured to death by throwing stones on them. A language is put to death and something is extinguished: Not only ethnic, linguistic roots, but also the sense of community, with fatal consequences for those uprooted.

Chamber of Immortality was conceived when Güneştekin saw pictures of the Göbekli Tepe excavation site in the southeast Anatolian high plains. It is probably the most ancient temple complex in the world, even older than the Egyptian pyramids. On an individual basis, the complex mainly consists of tall circular stone walls interspersed with high reliefs made of stone that act as guards before the two t-shaped columns in the center, abstracted deities. Güneştekin adopted this basic shape in the concept for his Chamber of Immortality and modified it uniformly by contrasting the myths and legends about Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim and Dhul Qarnayn in it with the stories of Noah in the Bible, and referring to the striking similarities with the narratives from the Yazidi ethnic group, with whom he has a deep attachment.

The surrounding walls of the Chamber of Immortality are decorated with the countless skulls, arranged horizontally and vertically in the colors of the rainbow. The large silver skull, which itself is constructed from smaller skulls, clearly indicates in its central position what this installation is all about: Death as indeed eternal life, the search for immortality, which the two-horned Dhul Qarnayn set out to seek without ever finding it. All of the horns on the inner walls are writhing like snakes and even the horn emerging from the mouth of the skull in the center has a snake-like character. This imaginary movement signifies life in contrast to the rigor mortis of the skulls.

Wish Tree, the artwork’s appearance is impactual. A spiral-like amassment of metal that conveys a sense of rotation from the distance, as though something is coiling around a shaft. Just that the artwork is aglow from the red coloring, like a fire flickering up and out of a bowl. The title of the sculpture Wish Tree tells us that this concerns a tree, a so-called wish tree, which can be found in many cultures, also in a modified form as the Christmas tree or maypole. In Anatolia, the related ritual is called “nahıl”, when we confide in and entrust our wishes to a tree.

Encounter reflects the fate of the peoples of Anatolia and Mesopotamia in a monumental wall relief. The memory of the Halabja massacre in which thousands of people perished in this town primarily populated by Kurds, propelled him to create this encyclopedic work. And to that extent, the art piece is a work of mourning. Rather than reflecting this complicated history of violence and displacement in the form of a chronological process, Güneştekin has fashioned and shaped vertical lines that run parallel to one another. Each of these panels is provided with symbols of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. With photographs no bigger than contact prints attached to these bars in the background. They bear witness to individual lives, to individual fates, ones that rarely play a role in the grand narratives of the all-powerful.

The Alphabet of Memory shows that it is essential to take a look at the founders of our word culture who they have shaped us to the present day. It represents a moral appeal to respect our cultural heritage and to – figuratively – not stone it to death. The show displays that the rhythms of the rhymes, tales and songs which Güneştekin experienced in his childhood, have also impacted on the structure and form of his art.

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