ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Ramazan Can as part of our Artist Spotlight series.
Born in Manisa in 1988, Ramazan Can graduated from Gazi University (name changed to Hacı Bayram Veli University), Faculty of Fine Arts, Department of Fine Arts Education in 2011. In 2015, he completed his degree in Gazi University Fine Arts Institute Graduate School of Painting and continues his educational pursuits at Gazi University Fine Arts Institute Painting Department, Sufficiency in Art program. He is now a Lecturer at The Painting Department of the Faculty of Fine Arts at Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli University. The artist works and lives in Ankara, Turkey.
ArteEast: Can you tell us about your work in general and the main themes you return to in your practice?
Ramazan Can: In my work, I keep wandering around the same subject: Nomadic-Yuruk culture. The circle sometimes narrows and sometimes expands, and the distance between the circles causes the subjects to feel as though they are far from each other. The fact that there is no material unity in my works can be a handicap in this regard.
I was born and raised in a region where people once lived as nomads and later settled down. I started to research the Yuruks by looking into my own story. I met shamans during my small research field trips and learned that many nomadic traditions were related to Shamanistic belief systems before the spread of Islam. Initially, I primarily produced works referencing Shamanism, and I continue to do so. However, in 2016, I came across a newspaper article that changed the course of my work.
At the time, I was trying to find solutions to current problems from a Shamanistic perspective. I was trying to create my own mythology based on a real mythology. During this period, many series of works appeared under different titles. All of these series that I refer to are progressing simultaneously.
AE: How did you begin creating carpets and how has your use of the carpet evolved in your practice?
RC: I started to produce concrete and weaving combination works following the newspaper article I mentioned above. There are still nomadic tribes in Anatolia, these nomads come together at regular intervals and hold festivities. According to a newspaper report, in one of these festivals, after the head of the nomadic association made a speech against the current government, the festival was disturbed by the local administration in that region and some tents were burned. This newspaper article really made an impression on me. I decided to combine my family’s 70-year-old nomadic tent, which I had kept for many years, with concrete and created I am in Settlement (Cupboard/ Attic Series) (2016).
Nomadic tents are woven objects and reflect the entire existence of nomads. Concrete is the most important industrial material of modern post-industrial life. We know that since the Ottoman period, the state has pushed the Yuruks to settle on grounds where they did not pay taxes. My work, İndigenization (Cupboard_Attic Series) (2017), which refers to this historic era, was the beginning of a new and ongoing series for me.
AE: In various series, you create works made of carpets and other materials such as concrete or neon. What is the significance of these other materials?
RC: In the new process that started with the combination of the family heirloom nomadic tent with concrete, I enhanced my previous field of research which consists of small-scale excursions. During these trips, I took audio and video recordings of my conversations with the local people. I started to get involved in Yörük weavings as well as the myths and stories of the Yuruks. The colors and patterns of the weavings impressed me so much that I came to think that each of them had values far beyond an ordinary object. A depiction ban emerged in Islam due to misinterpretations and I think that the Turks transferred all their desires to depict into weaving as if it were a rebellion against this imposition. These and similar thoughts became the nourishing source of the mottos I wrote on carpets with neon.
Weavings constitute all the assets of the Yuruks due to their easy transportability. Concentrating on this idea brought up the idea of a half-carpet with the tag “Once Upon a Time.” I tried to present the disappearance process of a culture through the most important asset of that culture.
I collected carpet patterns while I was visiting the nomadic villages. Some of these carpet patterns have been destroyed. I decided to weave one of these distorted patterns as it is. We weaved The Work of “Once Upon A Time” (2018) with my family and I recorded the whole process through video. My mother, aunt, cousins, and other relatives have all been part of this process.
This work later gained a different significance and transformed into half-carpet, half-neon works. Nevertheless, weaving carpets became extremely difficult for the people who helped me. And so, I developed this idea a little more and started to deal with the issue from another side with other helpful materials. We know that a culture disappears over time. So what happens if we reverse this temporal flow? Doesn’t this moment we live in do any harm to the past? Therefore, I tried to deal with the temporal flow of the act of extinction (past-present) in reverse (present-past). Once I began using neon and carpet together, I started to question the relationship between these two means of expression-material and the hierarchy between them (good-bad, right-wrong, old-new, up-down, on-ground-sky, art object-ordinary object) in the work, Feel at Home, (2020).
It was Derrida’s criticism of logocentrism that guided me while questioning this hierarchy of images. Logocentrism is a stereotypical way of thinking that mainly encompasses our world of thought, and is mostly carried out by means of dichotomies such as in/out, male/female, remembering/forgetting, present/absent. According to Derrida, we read the world through such dichotomies. Each distinction among these dichotomies symbolizes a hierarchy in which the first is seen as superior to the second, like for instance; friend-enemy, presence-absence, good-bad, fair-foul, speaking-writing. According to Derrida, the primary (and positive) notion that comes first, cannot be addressed without the other, because the first notion only becomes meaningful in combination with the second. More precisely, the second term gives existence to the first. For example, the concept of remembering makes sense only if forgetting exists. Or, wealth in this world can only be possible if there is poverty. According to Derrida, in each dichotomy one concept is not independent from the other. I have created works by bringing together two structures that are in contrast in terms of time and eras. On the one hand, there is an object of use created with traditional motifs and on the other hand, there is a current practice that extends in a complementary manner to the carpet. From Derrida’s perspective, these two structures support each other. Therefore, the carpet, which is an old means of expression, nurtures a new means of expression, neon, consequently giving it an existence.
AE: Elaborate on the use of skulls or bones within your work. How did you first begin to include them in your work and what do these objects represent?
RC: My story started with these materials. When I first learned that many traditions practiced by the nomads are rooted in Shamanism, these materials started to appear in my work.
According to Shamanism, people who are helpless in the face of natural events have tried to cope with nature in order to survive. People have accumulated their experiences and believe that unexplainable natural phenomena were regulated and directed by supernatural forces. People wanted to control nature as well as their own destiny by establishing relations with these supernatural forces. Therefore, magic and talismans were born as a result of people’s attachment to spiritual values beyond their material lives, and at this point the shaman stepped in. In the struggle with spirits, the first human that identified as being in connection with the bodies of animals such as bulls, deer and wolves (which were physically stronger than him), felt as though the animal had seized power over him and painted an image of it on the wall of a cave. He attached so much importance and attention to natural appearances because he wanted to give the shapes as much vitality as possible and to give them the true qualities of the animal. The striking naturalism in these early descriptions can be explained by the desire to identify with the world that distinguishes human beings from all other living things. The first man perceived all objects in nature and in the sky as living beings like himself, and called humans, animals, or the combination of the two, as creatures.
Apart from the visible and known material world, the existence of an invisible imaginary world consisting of jinn, spirits and supernatural creatures has been referred to. Shamanism sees disasters as the result of a special relationship between humans and beings of the invisible world. Humans are the victims of these omens, while beings in the invisible world are their vigilantes. Shamans act as mediators in this context. Shamans believed that the power of magic and the supernatural elements of religious ceremonies would truly bring harm to their enemies. Therefore, magic has played an important role in the lives of hunters from the beginning until today. Some primitive Turkic peoples are known as deer, bulls, wolves, wild boars, etc. they hang their jawbones in their homes, this action still continues in Anatolia. They believe that the spirits inside the bones will protect those living in that house.
AE: What and who are some of your major creative influences, and why?
RC: The creators of these stories are the people in my family, they all belong to my relatives.
AE: What are you currently working on and do you have any shows or projects upcoming in 2023-2024?
RC: I was meant to have a solo exhibition in the capital, Ankara, this month (March 2023), but I postponed this exhibition due to the disastrous earthquake. All the works of this exhibition are ready and I have other pieces that I am working on. Time will tell where I end up exhibiting them.
RAMAZAN CAN ONLINE: