Nancy Atakan, Window of Time, 2022, antique cloth, embroidery, 74 3⁄4 × 29 1⁄2".

Nancy Atakan, Window of Time, 2022, antique cloth, embroidery, 74 3⁄4 × 29 1⁄2".

Nancy Atakan

Born in Roanoke, Virginia, in 1946, Nancy Atakan studied art at that state’s Mary Washington College and then moved to Turkey at age twenty-three. She has lived in the same Istanbul apartment since 1969. While she is now well known in Istanbul as a Conceptual artist with a penchant for collaborative initiatives, in the 1970s and ’80s Atakan was an unknown painter moonlighting as an art instructor at a local high school. During those frustrating years, she faced rejection from gallerists and art-prize juries. Instigated by a 2022 documentary by Dilek Aydın on her practice, Atakan excavated her paintings from that time and produced a new body of work that brought the old and new into harmony. The embroideries, cloth collages, watercolor paintings, and installation works in her solo exhibition “Scent of Time” wove an aesthetics of remembrance.

Continued Loneliness, 2022, a substantial embroidery piece made of felt and needlework, hung next to three watercolors from 1987 that depict long-legged, blurry-faced nudes in states of isolation. Transporting and echoing the loneliness the artist felt in the 1980s to our pandemic era, Atakan stitched the solitary figure from one of those watercolors, Inside, into the embroidery and placed a smartphone in her hand.

Window of Time, 2022, took its inspiration from a 1983 watercolor titled Window, also displayed in the show. The older work depicts plants, pots, and a lonely tree viewed at a distance through a window; the new image, by contrast, made of antique cloth and embroidery given to the artist by friends and relatives, features blossoming flowers coming ecstatically to the fore, the sad window demoted to the background. The technique of stitching the present into the past found its most striking expression in a larger work, Challenging Cliché 3 (Quilt with Wedding Vows), 2019, which used as its canvas an American patchwork quilt made in 1940 by the artist’s grandmother and great aunt and presented as a wedding gift to her parents. Atakan added patches with colorful patterns as well as illustrations of family snapshots and wedding vows (LOVE TILL DEATH DO US PART). Elsewhere she coupled two patches, SICKNESS and HEALTH, with scenes depicting her own graduation from high school and the treatment she recently underwent for cancer.

Transfiguring Atakan’s personal histories in a different way was the installation Searching for the scent of time, 2022. Here, Atakan has placed a cloth in an embroidery hoop, decorating the perimeter of this circular frame with linked needlepoint motifs. At the frame’s center, she projects a three-minute video featuring shots of the artist interacting with variously shaped and modeled antique clocks rotating on a round table. On the soundtrack, dozens of timepieces tick as Atakan reflects on “remembering the future in fluid time” and her career-long tactic of pondering what she terms “circular movement” and “circular thoughts” through leaps and silences. Embracing the old and the new at once, “Scent of time” chronicled, at its own contemplative pace, the past and present practice of this mainstay of Turkey’s art scene.