Going beyond the horizon
By Heidi Trautmann
Going beyond the horizon and where we find treasures at the foot of the rainbow…
There is always a fascination of going to look what others are doing, especially when you are a creative artist such as Semral Öztan, a ceramic artist. I have met Semral on many occasions of ceramic art activities such as competitions, workshops and subsequent exhibitions, one I remember with great pleasure, that was in 2007, a workshop with the title ‘Izler/Traces’ to which the Association invited artists from other disciplines from both sides of the green line. I spent some time with them.
Semral was president then, twice again for another two years, and she is the President again this year in 2013.
On the occasion of the exhibition of the latest 4th Amateur Competition, an activity which has had big success over the years with astonishing results I met Semral again. There she told me about her travel to Karachi in Pakistan following an invitation by ASNA, an art association for the promotion of ceramic art, an absolutely important reason for me to meet her again and learn more.
Some days later, I visited her in her ceramic studio in Küçük Kaymaklı, just opposite the Football Club where she not only spends most of her time working but also teaching private students. Lots to see along the studio walls, ceramic objects on shelves and I got to hear the stories of the various exhibitions and projects. I discovered a series of the symbolic bird of Cyprus, pieces she had taken to China in 2010 to the Second Shanghai International Modern Pot Art Biennale Exhibition on which I had written an article.
“Yes, Heidi, that was very exciting. I was chosen as the one from Cyprus among 50 artists to take part in the Biennale in Shanghai, my first visit to the Far East. My series of Cyprus birds has a background story. They had started flying with my first exhibition in 1998. From then on it appeared on many art pieces, sometimes it flew to settle on a branch, sometimes it settled at the rim of a plate, or it became part of a panel or as an independent sculpture. Now, for Shanghai it changed into a teapot. – With this idea of mine to keep our Cypriot culture alive, I finally –after ten years - was given an award which opened the doors for me to the Far East and for a special travelling experience full of wonders.”
Before we settle down to talk about Pakistan, her latest experience, I wanted to learn more about Semral’s own background story. How did she grow up and what made her interested in ceramic art, I asked.
“I was born in Küçük Kaymaklı but I spent all my life until university in Lefke. I have two sisters and a brother. As a child I was very interested in arts and painting. Refik Saydam, was my arts teacher in high school and he is the one who inspired and motivated me to study arts. While studying at the Istanbul State Academy of Fine Arts (Mimar Sinan University with its new name), I once saw the ceramics work of a teacher of ours at his office. I was really impressed by those pieces of ceramic art, an art that touched my heart, a crucial moment for me, my crossroads, where I wished to create ceramics for the rest of my life. Therefore, I decided to choose my profession in ceramics.
It was in the troubled times in Cyprus that she grew up.
“I spent all my school years in Lefke during the years of war but in 1974 I went to Istanbul to study at the Istanbul State Academy of Fine Arts and graduated with a master’s degree from the ceramic department in 1978. Coming back I started working as an art teacher at the Atatürk Meslek Lycee and that for altogether 32 years. It was a good time. I was very interested in furthering ceramic art and so I approached the right persons in the right departments to have my idea realized for a ceramic studio in school. I organized all and finally succeeded in having a big school studio with kiln and everything. It still exists and is being used, also for adult education.” There are some now famous students who started their education at the Atatürk Vocational Lycee in the department of adult education, such as Ayhatun Ateşin, Sevcan Çerkez,Fatma Özok and Tijen Zeybek and their success stories show the effectiveness and success of the Atatürk Vocational Lycee. Currently there are six successful ceramics teachers teaching at Ataturk Vocational Lycee, working with great devotion.
Hasan Eminağa and Tomrül Tomgüsehan were the first Cypriots to establish a pottery in Kyrenia in 1974. So, there was not much activity in this field, and Semral was the next one to study ceramic art and teach it at school.
“Yes, there was quite some pioneering to be done, which I could do by teaching others. In 1995 I participated in my first Group Exhibition and my first solo one I had in 1998 on the occasion of which I had the Cyprus Bird series shown, we were talking about before. Finally, in 2000 I was the proud owner of my own studio in one room of Aşik Mene’s Studio, the painter, close to the Selemiye Mosque.”
In 1999 the Ceramists Association was founded by just seven members. In 2007, when I visited the workshop at the Eave House ‘Izler/Traces’ there were already 23 academic ceramic artists. Altogether Semral participated in about 35 group exhibitions and had two big solo exhibitions, besides her participations abroad.
How many members are there today, I asked. “Today the association has 60 members. In the past only university graduates of ceramics were eligible to be a member of the association, but with the recent changes of the association statutes, people who are over 18 and proving that they have at least two years experience in the field of ceramics can be a member of our association.”
During my initial tour through Semral’s studio of today I had admired a series of sculptures that circles around women and I just love them; women in a very basic elegant movement of clay with the inside open, women in all kind of life situations, upright and proud, bending, or as the curious looker at the keyhole, solo, in groups, very charming and meaningful.
I can well imagine her works having its collectors worldwide. “I like symbolic presentation, to create the essence of the object I have in mind, be it a bird, a woman, an object of nature, and that helped me to be chosen for my participation in China and Pakistan, my working on the symbols of our country, our values.”
Some of her works are pictured on some official governmental greeting cards as well as on our postal stamps. Above that, she was given awards for her work and was assigned member of the counselling board of the Cultural Department….and held the position of Head of the Ceramic Department of the Atatürk Vocational Lycee until she retired. My compliments, she must be a good organizer besides being an artist and teacher of arts.
To come back to my wish to learn more about her recent visit to Pakistan, we settle down with her computer to go through a series of pictures.
“I must say”, she said, “having been to Shanghai in 2010, has wet my appetite for the culture of the East. It was an honour for me to be chosen as participant in-spite of the high standard criteria the jury went by and to be the representative for my country with my Cyprus Bird in the form of a teapot. Shanghai has surprised me, it is a city of modern skyscrapers but it is much more than that, it is a place of architectural extravagancy, a playground of art activity, aesthetic statements in concrete and steel. So, you can imagine how excited I was when I was invited to take part in the 4th ASNA Clay Triennial in Karachi in October 2012. I went there with my friend Prof.Sevim Cizer from Ege University,Turkey. My contribution to the triennial exhibition was a group of Whirling Dervishes, one big one and eleven small ones with lustre glazing.”
ASNA was founded in 1997 by three interesting women, Nilofur Farroukh (art critic), Meher Afroz (artist) and Shanaz Siddiq (designer) with the mandate to explore the common ground between contemporary art and crafts through the shared spirit of creativity and relationship to tradition. The ASNA event - this year in cooperation with the V.M. Art Gallery - is the biggest international art event in Pakistan with international exhibitions, seminars, workshops, also around Kumbhar Mela (traditional pottery) and school visits. The triennial started with an exhibition ‘Light and Lightness’ with 60 artists from 16 countries, among them world famous ceramists.
“Eight days full of interesting events besides the experience of another culture, a very rich culture, and just alone the traditional costumes of women, the daily life which for the rich is very agreeable, for the many poor people the daily task to survive, the street life with its painted busses. When we met at private houses, we saw the high walls around the property, and, which struck me, that to one workshop the students which were to take part, just didn’t show up, the organisers seemed to be used to it and said: most probably something collapsed and held them up. Daily tragedies.”
“Within the framework of the event was a visit to a potter village where potters still worked under prehistoric conditions. It was an important programme point during ASNA as, one of the organisers expressed it during the opening ceremony: people seem to forget or don’t even know how pottery was and still is made.”
That is very true, Semral. I envy her for this rich experience but am happy to see her photos which do prove that contemporary art has reached all coasts of our world, that artists exchange their experiences and knowledge, how it should be, isn’t it?
Semral Öztan is preparing for another solo exhibition with the theme of flowers, the true flower of Cyprus, Jasmine. I can smell it.
The interview was conducted in March 2013.
Note by the author: Only two hours after this interview I heard the news of the bomb attack against the Shiites in Karachi with more than 50 people dead.