Sümer Erek was born in Northern Cyprus and works in the United Kingdom. He is a multidiciplinary artist, whose works expand from paintings to installations, videos to performances.
In these new works, SümerErek tries to find his identity as an independent artist outside the mainstream with his exhibitions under his “Another Place” project launched in 2016, and with his idiosyncratic works carrying his life experiences to the centre of art practice. This exhibition he named “Unlived Days” is a typical example of this sense of art and worldview of his. We are going to feel the artist’s longing for creating a new world, a world that worth living, by combining the personal with the social, the local with the global, the fiction with the reality. The “Unlived Days” project, which is the main artwork in SümerErek’s solo exhibition, goes back 40 years.
MuharremÖzdemir, one of the two Cypriot students of the Academy of Fine Arts in Istanbul who were kidnapped in 1977, loses his life after being shot. His pencil portrait, which had been started before his death, and his last photograph become the source of inspiration for “Unlived Days”. The survivor in this tragic reality is SümerErek. The murder of his friend and his miraculous survival with injuries changed not only his life but also his art. In this exhibition, the artist tries to “complete” his unfinished pencil portrait of Muharrem Özdemir again after 40 years.
In his exhibition review, Metin Şenergüç says, “…In a portraiture without a sitter, the memory unavoidably replaces the eyes. Here, SümerErek tries to complete the portrait by ‘seeing’ with his memory. The memory is about identity, history, knowledge and conscious as much as the perception of time and place. A synthesis of all these, if you will. Therefore, the past cannot be pure and plain in the memory. One remembers from ‘now’ to the past. Erek works in this gap opening between living an incident and remembering it in a representation, between the past and now. He builds a new life in the dialectical space between ‘now’ and absence.Therefore, he focuses on Muharrem’s ‘life’, or rather, on his unlived days. He attempts to give Muharrem a new life, to ‘resurrect’ him. He designs a portrait for each and every day from his death on 7 December 1977 to today. One portrait for every one of the 14,600 unlived days. SümerErek...tries to reach a ‘new’, a resurrection, with repetitions in approximately 15,000 portraits, scrupulously and painstakingly drawn, almost like a ritual.”
Expressing that this exhibition should not be viewed as an elegiac work only, MetinŞenergüç reminds us that the policies which the capitalist system pursues on our bodies are always after creating sorrow and it is impossible to detach ourselves from such emotions. He states that SümerErek also asks the questions of ‘what is the source of this sorrow’ and ‘whose interests drag us to such emotions’, and that he points at the fact that thousands of people lost in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea fleeing from their country are referred to as numbers only. Metin Şenergüç points out that, with this aspect of theirs, Muharrem’s portraits turn into secular icons resurrecting our own fears, concerns, hopes and longings.
Sumer Erek an independent artist, searches for an identity outside of the mainstream. Erek places his life experiences in the centre of his art. The art concept of the exhibition titled 'Unlived Days' is a typical example of his world view. In this exhibition the desire to create a new world is explored, a new world worth living, interweaving the personal with the social, the local with the universal and the imagined with the reality. Sumer Erek's 'Unlived Days' forms the main work in this solo show, which delves back forty years.
Turkey in the late 1970's was a politically turbulent place, many university students were murdered leading up to the fascist coup of 1980. Six of these were Cypriot students studying in Turkey at the time. This exhibition commemorates their tragic deaths.
In 1977 Muharrem Ozdemir was 19 and his friend just 18, both gifted Cypriot teenagers studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Istanbul when they were forcibly abducted and held captive for a day before being shot by the fascists. Before the death of Muharrem Ozdemir his friend had begun a portrait of him. This unfinished portrait and his last photograph became the source of inspiration for 'Unlived Days' and is dedicated to his memory. The survivor in this tragic reality is Sumer Erek. The murder of his friend and his miraculous survival with injuries changed not only his life but also his art. In this exhibition, the artist tries to “complete” his unfinished portrait of Muharrem Özdemir again after 40 years.
"I think I survived for a reason, I had to bear witness - to tell the story. Three bullets did not kill me but strengthened me more” Erek says. After forty years since he started his friend's portrait, Erek addresses the unfinished work - until now too painful to revisit. "It is my way of coming to terms with what happened, not only of losing my friend but of somehow surviving. This painful event has strengthen my world view, gave deeper meaning to my art and a reason to fight for a better world ever since”
Erek relies on his memory to complete the portrait, but memory is subjective and fluid and is moulded by time and events as much as emotions connected to the people and places we knew. The contrast of past events and the revisited memories, the spaces left by absence, this area between light and shade is where Erek endeavours to build hope and create answers by focusing on Muharrem’s ‘life’, or rather, on his unlived days. He makes images of Muharrem again and again repeatedly, creates a portrait for each and every day from his death on 7 December 1977 to today, almost like a ritual. One portrait for every one of the 14,600 unlived days.
Erek casts a critical eye over a capitalist system whose self serving policies create this sorrow daily, of thousands of lives cut short, desperately fleeing into the devastatingly watery arms of the Mediterranean sea, to become just another statistic in the news. Erek's portrait of Muharrem looks on like a mirror, reflecting our fears and giving us hope of refuge and resurrection.
© 2017 Hôte Gallery.