İnci Furni, Where Is Eros?, 2016, watercolor on paper, 19 × 24 3/4". From the eight-part suite Where Is Eros, 2015.

İnci Furni, Where Is Eros?, 2016, watercolor on paper, 19 × 24 3/4". From the eight-part suite Where Is Eros, 2015.

İnci Furni


İnci Furni, Where Is Eros?, 2016, watercolor on paper, 19 × 24 3/4". From the eight-part suite Where Is Eros, 2015.

At a time when an identity politics allegedly upholding cultural diversity (as explored in the special “Art + Identity” summer issue of this magazine) has arguably contributed to deeper conflicts on an international scale, as reflected in anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe and the United States, the Brexit vote in Britain, and religiously inspired terrorism worldwide, the need to focus on local sensibilities and hybrid cultural heritages becomes more pressing than ever. In her latest show, “Where Is Eros? Vol. 3,” Furni did just that by taking everyday forms and routines and finding unexpected humor in them by way of cultural images that have both universal and very specific regional connotations. It’s perhaps not insignificant that the exhibition took place in an old building not far from the Galata Tower (1348) on one side and Neve Shalom Synagogue (1951) on the other, as well as near several mosques, in one of the hubs of Istanbul where urban development is rushing ahead at full speed.

The exhibition was mainly of watercolors, among them a suite of eight titled Where Is Eros?, 2015. Its repeated leitmotiv is a specific type of service tray for tea or coffee, a round plate held by a single hanger, or handle—like a birdcage, but with wider spaces between the bars. Such trays are common objects throughout the Near East, and are often used in crowded, noisy coffeehouses that are microcosms of the humming, buzzing city around them. Furni treats this almost archetypal form as a small stage, a scene of action: In one, Pan is being attacked by angry little Cupids, or vice versa; in another, Cupid is sitting next to prayer beads (again a very common archeological object in this geography, as is a rosary) and a sculpture of a generic male Greek head; in another, a flirtatious Eros holds the tea tray, serving luscious fruit. The whole series evokes common emotions and experiences familiar to all.

The second suite, Naked Sleep, 2016, consisted of four watercolor paintings showing a nude man sleeping on a couch or a hammock. It is both a response to the typically female reclining nude in the history of art and a depiction of sleep as a liminal state in which one is here and elsewhere, physically present but mentally absent. Also in the same room were two other watercolors, Street Sweepers 1, 2013, and Taksim Scroll, 2016, the latter alluding to a famous fifteenth-century Timurid dynasty pattern scroll known as the Topkapı Scroll. Finally, Furni placed two pieces of furniture in the middle room, one a readymade—a wooden stool much like those found on the sidewalk outside teahouses—and the other a large sculpture made of long, thin strips of wood; its geometric shapes and rounded edges, inspired by Art Nouveau furniture, reimagine the dividers used to separate men and women in mosques. In general, these barriers do not really prevent the worshipper from being aware of who he or she is separated from; Furni’s version lets communication flow freely—a metaphor for the way that all cultures are influenced by each other and hence all identities are multiple. Two watercolors, hung on either side of the divider and facing each other from a wall and a column, also communicated with the rest of the show: Scarf, 2015, depicting a face towel, and Tray Hanger, 2015, which again shows a tea tray, but empty this time. In asking “Where is Eros?,” Furni inquired whether we can find the love that will bind us all together. Her works are positioned at the threshold where politics fails to manipulate those who choose to remain naïve and mischievous.

Mine Haydaroglu