Born in Selb, Germany, in 1967 and educated at the Mimar Sinan University of Istanbul, Taner Ceylan is generally referred as one of the most interesting Turkish artists and hyper-realist painters of these years. Almost paradoxically, however, he is very eccentric both as Turkish artist and as hyper-realist painter: the emotional force and the vibrant eroticism of his works, which go so far as to the depiction of anal sex or snowballing scenes, are quite atypical. His exhibitions, organized in famous galleries in Istanbul and other European and American cities, make obviously a great scandal for the usual conformists, but Ceylan is very well knows mostly for his artistic talents: his virtuosity is so unmistakable that even his detractors may not try to diminish him as a pure provocateur. Il grande colibrì discussed with him about his art and his views about Turkey.
Your works are often strongly homoerotic and sometimes shows sexuality in a very explicit – and even “pornographic” – way…
This is specially true for my works between 2002 and 2005. However, you should know that those are fantasy worlds that I created and has nothing to do with my real life. I am a very humble man. I have a very quiet and kind of a-social life. I don’t like hanging out and crowds. I think my life in canvas is too exciting to be experienced in reality. I paint my fantasies, my dreams.
What are the main sources of inspiration for with your work?
My first series, from 1998 to 2002, were inspired by heterosexual advertisements in magazines: I thought how it would be if these ads were made for me. Fifteen years ago I was much more driven by sex than today. However today my art is not just about my fantasy world: I have started to portray people I know.
How is the choice of hyper-realism connected to the ideas you want to express?
Even in my childhood, I couldn’t paint like a child. I always painted in a realistic way. During the years of my artistic education at the academy, I was trained to paint like old masters. As I said before, I paint my dreams. Therefore, I have to be the first to be convinced by what I’m painting. Even today, when I see a completed painting, it seems to me a miracle: it’s an unbelievable experience to see one of your dreams become reality.
How is homosexuality judged in Turkey?
In Turkey homosexuality has a very old tradition, that dates back to the Ottomans and, before them, to the Byzantines: here homosexual life has had its own way and its own rules for centuries. It’s quite normal for heterosexual men to have sex with other men, but they have always to present themselves as “active”. To make a well-known example, men who have sex with transvestite prostitutes – a very frequent case in Instanbul – generally prefer to be passive, but they don’t admit it. This Ottoman tradition survives in some places like hammams, where you have to know the rules.
Do you think the Western way to gay rights fits Turkey?
No, I think it can’t work here. Firstly, Turkey is part of the Islamic world, where homosexuality is forbidden. Secondly, while we have still rights as gay individuals, the legal recognition of same-sex couples, that is a so good thing, is far, far away from the Eastern world.
But Turkey has always been seen as a lighthouse of secularism in Muslim-majority countries, even by “non-heterosexual” people. Have things changed a lot during Erdogan’s premiership?
The government became more conservative and it has rejected Western culture in its entirety. Most of the theaters have been closed. Museums and opera houses have been closed. Also for the LGBT people who want to live openly, things are getting worse than before. Moreover, government is moving very fast away from secularism: Islamic rules are becoming very normal in the politics. At the same time, we know that Turkey is an outpost of America, so it has to be stable. However, in my opinion, politics will change next year: now it’s clear that liberal movements within Islam are not working against radicalism, because Islamic liberalism turnes itself into the radicalism that it should counteract.
Yes, some Islamic groups were side by side with LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people. But don’t forget homosexuality is a sin and must be punished in Islam.
Gezi’s resistance captured world’s attention and created high hopes: among other things, the LGBT movement gained greater visibility than in the past… [Il Grande Colibrì] Today, the world no longer talks about Turkey: after Gezi Park, has something really changed or is everything back as before?
After Gezi, nothing is the same here. It’s a mile stone for politics, human rights, LGBT rights… It was an utopia that was visible for a short time. Everyone, every race, every orientation was side by side. And the government didn’t understand it and mishandled the situation. Gezi changed the political opposition: now it’s a big wall in front of the government.
with the collaboration of Michele
©2014 Il Grande Colibrì