*Featured photo: Biennial 30, South Bend Museum of Art, South Bend, IN. Curator: Sarah Rose Sharp, 2019. Awarded Best in Show. Copyright Hale Ekinci
Hale Ekinci, a Turkish-born multidisciplinary artist, holds a master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Arts & Media from Columbia College in Chicago, IL, is currently an Associate Professor of Art & Design at North Central College in Naperville, IL, and lives in Chicago.
Ekinci’s works speak of identity and culture, migration and culture, personal experience and the subtle balances slowly forming between a culture of origin and host culture.
The artist speaks of integration, separation, assimilation and societal exclusion, of denied, suspended, collective identities, in exploring, re-interpreting and overcoming commonplace stereotypes. She applies a layered combination and fusion of symbols, techniques, and materials representative of different traditional cultures. Decorative fringes influenced by the Middle Eastern tradition of oya and images from the family photographic archive, reclaimed sheets, handicrafts ornament is brought to dialogue with portraiture.
Her works have been widely exhibited in museums and art galleries, including EXPO Chicago, One After 909, Woman Made Gallery, South Bend Museum of Art, Koehnline Museum of Art, St. Louis Artists’ Guild and Queens College Art Center. She is a recipient of the “Figure and Fiber Award” from the Surface Design Association. She has completed residencies at ACRE, Jiwar Barcelona, Momentum Worldwide Berlin, Elsewhere Museum and Chicago Artist Coalition.
How did you approach art? What does the textile medium represent for you and why this choice?
I’ve been a multi-disciplinary artist for over 10 years focusing on collage and storytelling in a range of media. My graduate work was mostly in animated videos with absurd narratives based on memory and traditions questioning gender roles and politics. I switched to textiles in the last 4 years mainly due to a desire to make things by hand. I am an associate professor of Design at North Central College which requires me to teach on the computer a lot. To get away from screens in the studio I started to work with crochet and embroidery, applying techniques that I learned from my mother, not at school. Later, I started adding things like transferred photos and painting, mixing in my western education. I’m drawn to textiles firstly due to the pleasure I get from the process and how it calms me, but also as a feminist, using undervalued “women’s work” and domestic materials as a fine art form is meaningful to me on a philosophical level.
What inspires you and what makes you create? How does the idea for a work come about?
I am inspired by stories, rituals, traditions, stereotypes, fusion of cultures, and women’s issues. I am also inspired by the craft processes, the act of making itself, and color. I read about different topics such as nonverbal communication, clothing history, hyrid identity, and color theory. My process usually starts with an old photograph – either from family albums or archives. After I edit the photo and transfer it onto one of the many domestic fabrics I collect from thrift stores as well as my own dowry, I paint and embroider intuitively, going with the flow of image, listening to what the person in the photograph is telling me. I also I take a lot of notes and quick/messy sketches and test compositions out. I use photography and Photoshop to try colors and compositions, especially in the middle of the production phase. This leap takes a long time. I often take notes and think on things for a very long time before I act on them unless it’s a series that is mostly figured out and is on autopilot.
What do these images represent and how do they relate to the ornaments and lace you construct around them?
I try to create a mix of conflicting feelings related to sense of home, relations, and cultural ties. I refuse dualities, so I juxtapose a range of elements that can be humorous, challenging, confusing, comforting, melancholic, or joyful (etc.). Being an international artist and an immigrant, I use familiar and foreign things in the same scene, obscuring them to the point where you can’t tell what/who is from where. I’m interested in multi-cultural identity and acculturation. I transfer old photos from my Turkish heritage, my Hoosier husband, and found sources onto household textiles.
The people get repeated or turned into patterns themselves, to intertwine the “individual” into newly configured “collectives” or to perform multiple personalities. I then layer embroidery and painting over them to further muddle the identities. My use of Islamic tradition of ornamentation juxtaposed with portraiture is a subversive strategy. Seeming as merely a tool of beautification, ornamentation can actually trigger tension by teasing us in our vision’s periphery while our attention is on something else. It can proliferate and thus overwhelm the figure it initially sets out to embellish. This echoes the different strategies of acculturation: integration, separation from, assimilation to, or social marginalization. Mimicking this ploy, the ornament and the figure perpetually displace each other as the definers of identity and what is actually in the periphery.
Artist but also Associate Professor of Art & Design at North Central College in Naperville, IL. What does teaching add to your being an artist?
Part of my job requirement is to keep an active scholarship on creative work, producing and disseminating my art. This allows me to be current in my field and share my experiences with my students. They learn not only from my process of making but also from what it takes to be a professional artist. In return, teaching keeps me excited about the creative process. I often get energized by the way students solve a visual problem, their findings from research, their own identities and stories they bring into their work. Their energy often rubs off on my, inspiring me to go into my studio and feed off of the creative community.
A work or a project that has played an important role in your professional development?
My large-scale Facebook commission, where I made a permanent fabric installation in their Chicago office. A 7.5 meters x 3 meters adaptation of my works on textiles. Making such a large work for the first time and seeing it in the space was challenging and rewarding at the same time. I also like the idea of hundreds of people passing by this work and pausing for a moment to consider the stories of these strangers they don’t really know.
Why is art important for our lives?
Art is what makes us human. If there is no art, there is no “spice” to life, life would be pretty bland. Recently I read the book and watched the series called “Station Eleven” that exposed this idea beautifully. In this story, most of the world population gets dissipated from a pandemic and the remaining people without electricity or internet survive with stories and art. I thought the value of art for humanity was poetically communicated.
What are your next projects?
Between July – August, I’m excited to be an artist in resident at Spudnik Press in Chicago, where I will continue my mixed-media works on textiles and add printmaking to my visual vocabulary.
In September, I have a solo exhibition at The Leonor R. Fuller Gallery at The Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts. I will be visiting Olympia, WA to give an artist talk for my exhibition. I have never been to Washington State and am very excited to finally visit! I have two other solo exhibitions coming up in October and December.