Hulya Kupcuoglu: “Who are our heroes?” (Peter Hristoff)

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Peter Hristoff’s new exhibition titled “Heroes” and can be visited at the C.A.M gallery between October 23 – November 23, is inspired by the “Odyssey” by Homer and focuses on the themes of identity, exile, return and change. In the artworks in which the traces of popular culture and current events can be seen, the artist questions “Who are our heroes?”

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Hulya Kupcuoglu: The name of your new exhibition is “Heroes”. Can we learn how this exhibition came to be?

Peter Hristoff: Several years ago my work started focusing on the idea of the middle east as being the romantic and orientalized reference point for “paradise”, the cradle of civilization, the imagined site of the “Biblical Garden”, etc. This investigation started with a body of work called “Bahcede” which referenced the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise — obviously a symbol the unrest throughout the near and middle east — these lands of milk and honey and ancient olive trees being devastated, inhabitants being driven out.  The progression from these images leads us to these current paintings, “Heroes”. I have been working on these images for about 4 or 5 years now.

H.K.: Who are the Heroes you named your exhibition after?

P.H.: The “Heroes” in these paintings are us — with all of our strengths, weaknesses, vulnerabilities and desires: creatures capable of great and noble deeds as well as capable of havoc. The second layer of symbolic heroes in these works are inspired by Classical Greco-Roman arts.

There is also an element of humor and erotica in these works. That gives them a complexity and a theatrical quality I am interested in.

H.K.: Do you believe that the meaning or scope of heroism changed in time from the past to our day?

P.H.: The meaning of Heroism is fixed but complete ; the scope changes — a small heroic act is as important as one that has huge impact. Heroism is almost always obvious, often requires sacrifice, can be complex or incredibly simple, horrific or beautiful.

2H.K.: The themes you are emphasizing are identity, power, ego and violence. These are also the contemporary themes of our day and brings the current events to mind. At which points do you make connections with the current events?

P.H.: My mature work, meaning the body of work post Graduate Studies, almost always references current events and global conditions as filtered through a personal narrative.

The earliest work I made that referenced political issues in the Middle East is a painting from the late 1980’s called “Baseball Koran” –about the clashing of cultures. Some of my earliest “Orientalist” pieces were paintings of Ottoman Turbes, psychologically and poetically commenting on the early AIDS crisis.  The initial inspiration for the ideas behind the work pre-dating “Heroes” were the student demonstrations in Iran of several years ago. The wars in in Afghanistan and Iraq, the images I collected from newspapers, as well as my developing attachment to the Meandros Valley and it’s rich history, somehow all congealed into this body of work I call “Heroes”.

H.K.: Which “identity” questionings come to the forefront within the context of your work?

P.H.: The “identity” issues/questions that come to the forefront of my work are usually about masculinity, sexuality, the complex nature of desire – both sexual desire and the desire of power, which, of course, is not unrelated.

H.K.: As in the past, the people, today, are also changing the locations they live because of wars, money or famine. Within the context of returning home, identity and exile, if we are to come to the current events, with what kind of a questioning process are you emphasizing these themes?

P.H.: The themes of exile and return I am addressing are general and symbolic, inspired by literature, history and current events. The images of broken statuary imply the damages incurred during this journey as they are missing limbs, heads, genitals, etc. I am emphasizing in what shape — mental, physical, sexual — one returns home after a long, arduous, life-changing voyage.

H.K.: The exhibition also contains examples from your carpet works, can you provide information concerning your carpet works in general?

P.H.: The carpets I am exhibiting, all inspired by an extended stay in Rome, are based on the idea of demented Latinlessons. They are both funny and critical. Normally, I create rugs that appear to be more “traditional” at first glance and then slowly reveal a personal iconography upon investigation.

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H.K.: You state that “The current events which repeat the horrible historical scenarios interest me as well as breaking my hope.” Do you believe that we have entered a hopeless process?

P.H.: I remain hopeful despite the daily horrors we are experiencing. I see the brutality and the beauty we are capable of.

H.K.: You live in the USA but are also following the Turkish art environment closely. What do you see when you look at both art environments?

P.H.: With the globalization of a market driven art world, one sees little difference in the art scenes of various nations in terms of contemporary art. There are big players and smaller players. I am saddened that the notion of an avant- garde seems to be of little relevance today. Using a computer does not necessarily make one modern and contemporary, just as using an iPhone doesn’t necessarily mean one is progressive.

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H.K.: Do you believe that the Turkish art has really made a progress in the recent years as it is said to have done?

P.H.: Obviously the Turkish artworks and scene has grown tremendously in recent years. When I first started exhibiting in Istanbul in 1997 there were just a handful of galleries. When my father graduated from the Istanbul Guzel Sanat Akademisi (now Mimar Sinan) there were even less. When my grandfather came to live in Istanbul as a painter in the early 1920’s, I don’t think there were any, perhaps one or two. I am personally interested in seeing work that is inspired by and comments on contemporary Turkish culture and society. In that respect I think a lot of Turkish photographers are to be congratulated. I also think that the design scene here is fantastic. The galleries and exhibition spaces like Arter and Salt are doing a wonderful job, as are the museums. But alas, if I had to pick one piece (of artwork) to exemplify a what I love and admire most in Turkish art, it would probably still be a Seljuk Hali. I sincerely hope something or someone will come along soon to make me change my mind.

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