A Forgotten Woman of the Republic: The Many Ways of Melek Celâl, is now open

26 December 2023
A Forgotten Woman of the Republic: The Many Ways of Melek Celâl, is now open
A Forgotten Woman of the Republic: Melek Celâl in All Her Aspects at SSM between December 26, 2023 - April 28, 2024

The Sabancı University Sakıp Sabancı Museum continues its series of monographic exhibitions, offering an in-depth exploration of significant artists and their contributions to Turkish painting. A Forgotten Woman of the Republic:The Many Ways of Melek Celâl focuses on a pioneering female artist of the late Ottoman Empire and the early Turkish Republic. Sponsored by Sabancı Holding and with contributions from Gilan, it can be visited at the SSM from 26 December 2023 to 28 April 2024.

The exhibition is centred around the life and art of Melek Celâl, the first female artist to show nude works at the Galatasaray Exhibition in 1924, as well as the first woman to open a solo exhibition in 1935. Featuring a diverse array of the artist's paintings and sketches; as well as patterns inspired by Anatolian motifs; articles on urban planning, calligraphy, and Turkish embroideries, the exhibition also features a rich archive, including photographs, postcards, memoirs, and letters providing a comprehensive view of Melek’s life.

Melek stands out as a trailblazing female representative of the first generation of modern artists, born in the late nineteenth century in the Ottoman Empire and continuing their lives in the newly established Republic of Turkey. As well as presenting an in-depth exploration of Melek's life and works, the exhibition also delves into ways in which modernisation was experienced in a nation undergoing radical change. Like many artists of the early Republican period, Melek Celâl, raised in Istanbul amidst the cultural heritage of a wealthy Ottoman family, is approached not only as a forgotten painter of the period, but also as a poignant reminder of the profound societal changes taking place throughout her lifetime. The scientific research project titled Melek Celâl: Beyond Vision is also featured in the exhibition, shedding light on her artistic technique, the restoration processes her works have undergone, and the structure, colour, paint layers, and texture of the materials that she used.

Sabancı Holding CEO, Cenk Alper, stated, " We believe that the exhibitions we have previously organized in collaboration with Sakıp Sabancı Museum, featuring Feyhaman Duran, Selim Turan, Avni Lifij, and Abdülmecid Efendi, are not only significant for art enthusiasts but also serve as important art historical resources. In the centennial year of our Republic, it brings us great joy to present this exhibition on the life and art of Melek Celâl, a multifaceted female artist embodying all the values of the Republic. We extend our heartfelt thanks to dear Nazan Ölçer and the SSM team for presenting the life and art of this influential female artist to the public, through such intensive research and dedication."

Director of the Sakıp Sabancı Museum, Dr. Nazan Ölçer, said, "Our monographic exhibitions, concentrating on an artist's oeuvre and delving deeply into their stylistic nuances and contributions to the cultural and artistic landscape, always demand thorough preliminary research. This year, under the sponsorship of Sabancı Holding, we have chosen to shine a spotlight on a remarkable female artist. Regrettably, Melek Celâl, a versatile individual born into a prestigious family, navigating the transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Republic of Turkey, has been overlooked in contemporary narratives of the Republic. In commemorating Melek Celâl, a true embodiment of Republic ideals, we see it as our responsibility to revisit this pivotal epoch in Turkish history and its aspirations on the occasion of the Republic's centenary.

Melek, raised in an educated and affluent family, received an exceptional education within the confines of her home. Although her name doesn’t appear in the official records of the School of Fine Arts for Women and the Académie Julian, it is likely that she attended these institutions as a guest student and continued her education by attending the studios run by prominent artists during her frequent travels to Paris. Residing in Moda and establishing her own studio, Melek played an active role in the cultural and artistic milieu of Istanbul, hosting numerous artists and intellectuals of her time at her house, Villa Wohl.

Beyond her work as a painter and sculptor, Melek Celâl was also an accomplished writer and critic. Her articles and books on traditional Turkish arts and calligraphy, coupled with her talks on the subjects, are as noteworthy as her identity as an artist. Melek stands as a representative of the Republic, gazing towards the West, while maintaining a strong connection to Anatolia. We invite all art enthusiasts to explore the life and art of this exceptional female figure, whose global outlook, educational foundations, and unwavering commitment to traditional Turkish arts and architecture served as an example for the generation the Republic aimed to raise.”

The exhibition catalogue, endowing A Forgotten Woman of the Republic: The Many Ways of Melek Celâl with an enduring academic legacy, features articles by Namık Sinan Turan, Gizem Tongo, Ahu Antmen, Nazan Bekiroğlu, Mehmet Samsakçı, and Ömer Faruk Şerifoğlu, approaching Melek Celâl's life and art from diverse perspectives.

The exhibition will be supported by several educational programmes, including a “Mindfulness in the Museum” workshop hosted on 26 January, inspired by art therapy and mindfulness principles. Tailored for children aged 5-7 and their parents, the workshop will delve into the colours and compositions of Melek Celâl’s still-lifes exhibited in the galleries.

A Forgotten Woman of the Republic: The Many Ways of Melek Celâl sponsored by Sabancı Holding with contributions from Gilan, can be visited at SSM Gallery -2 every day except Monday, from 10:00 to 18:00, until 28 April 2024.


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