The Monoliths of Erol AKYAVAS

By Bircan ÜNVER


The first time I viewed Erol AKYAVAS' solo-exhibition was at the Urart Art Gallery in Istanbul in 1983.

This exhibit based on CASTLE's in turquoise, navy blue, and black, with their backgrounds consisting of combinations of these colors on large-scale canvases. 

The Glory of Victory, 1982.

Having moved to NYC for good in '96, my work and education has focused on video production, and planned to produce a video profile on Erol AKYAVAS' art due to his works that left a major impact on me.

Luckily I wasn't too late calling and asking him about my video-project idea on his art. After setting up an appointment, I visited him and his wife Ilona in their Manhattan apartment early June of '97. He accepted my proposal to produce a video documentary concerning his work, but they were getting ready to leave in a week to Istanbul for summer vacation. I asked him that if he could provide me with visual and written materials, then I could work on them over the summer and on their return I could tape the interviews.

He hesitated at first because we had just met but I convinced him that I could make a copy of his portfolio at that moment across the street on 23rd and 3rd avenue, where their apartment is.

While Akyavas and Ilona were searching their Hi8 tapes and selecting the slides of his paintings, I headed for Xeroxing.

"Fihi Fa Mih", 1989

This was the only face-to-face meeting with Akyavas. Following September, I was keep calling their daughters Mirgun and Nazan to find out if their parents came back from Turkey.

First week of October in '97, I received voice-messages from both of them informing their father's sudden eight-hour-surgery . This was unexpected and shocking news. I hoped that he would soon recover from his illness but he couldn't. Since then, I was planning to see his upcoming retrospective exhibition. Finally, a major trio-retrospective exhibition was opened in November 2000, lasting through January 2001. It was organized and funded by Bilgi University and Beral Madra & Haldun Dostoglu were the curators.

Because of his great contributions to the contemporary art world and his most recently trio-retrospective exhibitions in Istanbul and Ankara, we are dedicating the Winter 2001 issue to Erol AKYAVAS.

* * * * *

"Turning and turning, from the moment of its inception, the swirling creation takes a thousand forms, a thousand manifestations; and every point begins and ends a return. That is the center that is what turns and returns. Dislodge the tiniest mote from its place, universal ruin will come down. All things are dizzy, inebriate, and awestruck. No tiniest mote can venture one step outside the bounds of its potential." Sebüsteri, "Gülsen-i Raz"

I saw Erol Akyavas' "Kaaba" paintings from their reproductions in the book; "Erol Akyavas" first time in '97. I realized that during the videotaping of his works from the book itself, my comprehension was beyond interpreting them in a frame of religious symbols. I could still not relate them with the Monoliths until I read Arthur C. Clarke's book; "2001: A Space Odyssey" in '99, and reviewing the related film afterwards. In the book, "The Making Of Kubrick's 2001, Edited By Jerome Agel, The Agel Publishing Company, Inc, 1970" Clarke states that:

"We recently discovered there is actually a Buddhist sect that worships a large, black rectangular slab. The analogy of the Kaaba was also mentioned. Although I certainly did not realize at that time, the fact that the Black Stone was sacred to Moslems was reputed to be a meteorite seemed to me more than quaint coincidence."

From "Icons For Iconolasts" installation (1990)
"The meaning of the four Holly Book as same in the word Elif", 1985
The Cemistry of Happiness

Clarke indicates with his line that Moslems repute to "Kaaba" as "to be meteorite is more than quaint coincidence" from the Moslems point of view.  This interpretation brings in completely different approach to comprehend Akyavas' paintings as well as "Kaaba". 

Thus I intend to illustrate a triangle between Akyavas' paintings on KAABA, the MONOLITHS and KAABA itself.

According to a definition on KAABA from the "Encyclopedia":

" In ISLAM, the most sacred sanctuary, the center of the Muslim world and the chief goal of pilgrimage. It is a small building in the Great Mosque of MECCA, nearly cubic in shape, built to enclose the Black Stone; the most venerated Muslim object. The Kaaba was a pagan holy place before MOHAMMED, and many legends surround its origin. Nonbelievers are forbidden to approach it. Muslims face the Kaaba when praying."


His philosophical suggestions in uniting three major religions and therefore all the humankind with his “Fihi Ma Fih”, and a critical approach for the existing systems from the prehistoric period up to today by "Icons for Iconoclats" installations, I came to a realization that, AKYAVAS' soul, mind and creativity were in a constant interrelation with life, multi-cultures and belief systems, therefore conducting us for the future.

In particular, seeing his retrospective exhibitions led me to comprehend his art and accomplishments on a much higher level. Throughout his retrospective exhibitions (Dolmabahce Culture Center and Bilgi Atelye-111, the ones I had seen) he did not only prove his very fine, filtered, accumulated and emerged background to accompany his studies, experiences, knowledge; but also transformed those various rich sources into contemporary art. The exhibitions were representing his different periods from the '50s until the end of '90s, expanding for almost five decades. Akyavas' art structure and different periods of his techniques results in a profound and powerful reference in which he reflects and shares innerlight, knowledge, and intuitions of his art.

While he was searching and questioning throughout modern art elements and cultural values of his own background, he was also emerging them into the contemporary art as well as into the contemporary Eastern culture in a new light form and proposal.

However, while I was videotaping his retrospective exhibitions, I sensed that each question or idea had an answer within the exhibit itself. I overjoyed to have the opportunity to see this remarkable exhibition consisting of his 350 paintings, installations, projects and drawings at once. The exhibitions were selected from various sources, collectors, from the U.S., Europe and Turkey.

After seeing the series of the "KIMYA-I SAADET" (1984), an image and a model of his "LABIRENT" project, (1985), "DORT KITABIN MANASI BIRDIR ELIFTE"; (The meaning of the four Holly Book as same in the word Elif), (1986), HALLAC-I MANSUR, KERBELA (1983) ve KAABAA (1989), FIHI MA FIH (1989), ICONS FOR ICONOLASTS (1990), and two photographs of his "ISTANBUL" project, which has a vertical green laser light in the sky over Istanbul at night; these series, installations and each of his individual elements of the paintings and his ultimate belief and quest have embraced to universalize his art. At the same time, Akyavas guides us through his "LABIRENT" project as well as others, to follow our beliefs in order to reach our own inner peace.

There is a general assumption and concept that if you follow up your intuitions within your knowledge and experiences, this direction may lead you towards to future. Perhaps only by this reason, --among others--, I still would've relate his KAABA paintings and in general his art with the future. As John Berger analyzed in his remarkable book, "THE WAY OF SEEING" that we can look, see, comprehend and evaluate the very same art with many different ways and layers.

Sebüsteri's, "Gülsen'i Raz" one of the AKYAVAS' significant contributions to interpret its philosophy in his art. I assume that, the following idea from Sebüsteri, influenced Akyavas' art philosophy greatly: "Turning and turning, from the moment of its inception, the swirling creation takes a thousand forms, a thousand manifestations, and every point begins and ends a return.” Therefore, his art also may have seen from this projector. As Sebüsteri states, "every point begins and ends a return," thus, I shall return to the film; the "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968), and an interpretation on the film by Dennis T.M. and about his points on the MONOLITHS:

" The Monolith appears. The appearance of something is so artificial, so PERFECT, in the prehistoric era of the man-apes is one of the greatest shocks of the entire film. This Thing has appeared, as if from nowhere.
There was something mystical and emotional about this particular scene: the man-apes, almost childlike in their innocence, running their hands over the smooth surface of

the Monolith. They do not know where it neither has come from, nor can they comprehend the beings responsible for intruding upon their world in this manner. They only knew that it is something new, and their curiosity were compelling them to finding out what this new thing was. It's as if they received a gift from the God.

In fact, this is precisely what has happened. Stanley Kubrick chose the rectangular form of the Monolith because of its simplicity and its perfection."

Erol Akyavas too emphasized KAABA's simple and perfection architecture, and it's power and impression over the people.

Also, the "Bibliographic Record the Columbia Encyclopedia: Sixth Edition. 2000", defines KAABA as:
"The Black Stone, possibly of meteoric origin, is located at one of its outside corners. Also dating from pre-Islamic times as a heavenly relic, this stone is venerated and ritually kissed."

From that point, my idea has became much more clear that KAABA was one of the best-known 'meteoric origins' on the Earth, which is also sacred and enlightening the Muslim world's hope. And with no doubt, Akyavas was aware of the film, and made a remarkable connection by transforming and recreating his background in general religion philosophy, and contributed into the contemporary art world as well as into the future with his KAABA and among many other series, projects and paintings.

As suggested by him via "Fihi Ma Fih": "All the humanity can stand side to side each other”, and points out the future to “us”, here let's turn again to Dennis T.M.'s conclusion about the MONOLITHS:

"It was the tool that let the man-apes survive extinction, four million years ago; it was also the tool that announced to the Universe that a new race of intelligent beings was leaving its planetary cradle. And it was the tool that took Dave Bowman here, to his new birthplace. Now it has one last purpose: to send the Star Child home. It will be the Star Child's final reliance on tools."

The synchronization of meaning, architecture, concept and color of the MONOLITHS and KAABA could not be a simple coincidence as Clarke stated. More over, KAABA’s existence goes beyond back to beginning of the religion of ISLAM! Therefore, Akyavas challenges KAABA under a new light and comprehension offering a new approach to life and universe together rather than as a religion by itself! 

©Bircan Unver, New York, January 2001 

Erol AKYAVAS: The Mark of the East
(Documentary, media release)

This issue is dedicated to contemporary Turkish artist Erol AKYAVA┼×.
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