Rotunda exhibition explores gender roles in Turkey

by Owen Shepcaro | 1/21/15 6:05pm

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Each slab in Sera Boeno’s exhibit “Kelimeler Kiyafetsiz (:Words Naked/Are Not Enough)” weighed between 50 to 120 pounds.

Concrete slabs reminiscent of ancient Middle Eastern tablets stand alone in the Barrows Rotunda, the circular glass gallery space that students pass by as they enter the Hopkins Center. These imposing slabs are a part of studio art intern Sera Boeno’s ’14 politically and personally charged piece “Kelimeler Kiyafetsiz (:Words Naked/Are Not Enough.)”

Boeno said that the piece represents her personal interpretation of gender relations in her native country of Turkey.

“Kelimeler Kiyafetsiz” is made of ten concrete slabs of various sizes, evoking 3,000-year-old tablets from the Assyrian Empire. Inscribed on these tablets are a selection of quotations from various Turkish politicians, quotes that Boeno has heard at different times throughout her life. Boeno said that she chose to inscribe the quotes in a mixture of Turkish and English in an attempt to make the piece more accessible to the general public.

“Creating art that is about Turkey often presents the difficulty of translation,” she said. “I use text a lot in my art work, which can be difficult for viewers at Dartmouth to understand.”

Although her exhibition is concerned with the political issue of gender relations in Turkey, Boeno said, that she is not an ambassador to the United States, a role that people who view her work sometimes assume she inhabits. She said that the opinions presented in her work are not meant to represent the opinions of all Turkish people at the College.

“This is my individual commentary on the Turkish socio-political situation,” Boeno said. “But because international students from Turkey are such a small minority at Dartmouth, my work is often portrayed as a definitive representation of how things are in Turkey.”

Boeno said that the tendency of people to misinterpret her work has made it difficult for her to emphasize that her art only represents her own thoughts on Turkish politics. She said that a way to avoid this misinterpretation is to go beyond emotional poignancy by including factual information.

Beyond the difficulty with expressing her message, Boeno said that she encountered physical troubles in the creation of the exhibition. Each of the concrete pieces found in the exhibition weighed anywhere from 50 to 120 pounds.

“The most practical issue in the creation of this exhibition was moving the pieces to the Rotunda,” she said. “I had a lot of help from my housemates, friends and other studio arts interns in the moving process.”

The unusual circular shape, as well as the size of the Rotunda, also presented challenges, Boeno said. Because she knew that her exhibition would be held in the Rotunda, however, she was able to create the piece with the space in mind. Boeno added that the limits of a space are very important in art, especially in sculpture.

Director of exhibitions and studio art professor Gerald Auten said that “Kelimeler Kiyafetsiz” is powerful in its ability to engage its viewers.

“I’ve watched people look at her work at the Rotunda, wandering in and out of the building, reading the text and trying to figure it out,” Auten said. “Ultimately, I think that is what art work needs to do — engage the viewer and start a sort of conversation. Sera’s work does this very well.”

Sean Hammett ’14, another studio art intern who has frequently worked with Boeno during their time at the College, said that she has grown as an artist over the time that he has known her.

“Her work has become a lot more mature, a lot more considerate and a lot more consistent,” Hammett said. “She also experiments a lot with different materials. She is a lot more adventurous than she was as a younger student.”

Hammett said that her work tends to have more of a political message than other artists at the College and described her artistic endeavors as “tough.” He said that he believes that her exhibition show represents the next step in her development as an artist and demonstrates a strong and forceful point of view in the topic that she is discussing.

“This exhibition has similar content to some of her other pieces in that it is concerned with the politics of Turkey,” Hammett said. “But this exhibition is more clearly presented and it is more succinctly distilled into a coherent piece.”

He said that he thinks it can be challenging for art students to do work about politics.

“I think its great for a young artist to be doing mature work like that, that is drawing on current events and on a political climate,” he said. “I think that’s tough for students to do well, but Sera definitely succeeded in her work.”

Auten said that Boeno represents what the studio art department expects from its majors, due to the force behind both the exhibition and her work in general. Boeno’s work is serious, ambitious, well-crafted and conceptually strong, he said.

“Kelimeler Kiyafetsiz” will be exhibited through Feb. 16 in the Barrows Rotunda in the entrance to the Hop. After the conclusion of “Kelimeler Kiyafetsiz,” Hammett’s work will be exhibited in the gallery.