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Although İsmail Saray participated in numerous exhibitions across Turkey and Europe throughout the 1970s until the 1990s, with an increasingly political conceptual practice, he remained on the fringes of the art system, both locally and internationally. Saray’s dissident stance against the system and critical attitude towards art’s institutionalization, his status as a state employee, his bohemian lifestyle, self-imposed exile in the aftermath of the 1980 coup d’état, as well as the short-term memory of the historiography of art in Turkey obscured his significant artistic practice.
SALT has been researching the context of Saray’s life and practice since late 2012 with the conviction that the he holds a canonical place in the artistic and cultural environment of the 1970s and early 1980s in Turkey. His works have an international resonance with the advanced practices of the time in addition to displaying an acute sense of place. Comprised of documents and audio-visual materials, the artist’s archive was processed and digitized by SALT and made available online at SALT Research. The first phase of the project was shared in the form of an exhibition titled From England with Love, İsmail Saray at SALT Galata in Istanbul and later at SALT Ulus in Ankara (2014-2015). Aiming to rescue his artistic output from passing into oblivion, the exhibition brought together Saray’s works and archival materials, and was his first and only retrospective in Turkey.
Similarly, the İsmail Saray book, which is the first monographic publication on the artist, brings together artworks and selected documents from the İsmail Saray Archive at SALT Research, encompassing his output from his student years in the 1960s up to the SALT exhibition. The book is edited by Duygu Demir, an independent curator and PhD candidate in art history at MIT, and Sezin Romi, Senior Librarian and Archivist at SALT Research and Programs, and designed by Okay Karadayılar. Editions of the book will be available in both Turkish and English in March. In addition to texts by the editors, the book includes essays by Antony Hudek, Begüm Akkoyunlu, and Yusuf Taktak, along with excerpts from interviews conducted with Mustafa Altıntaş, Handan Börüteçene, Cengiz Çekil, Ahmet Öktem, and Saray himself during the research process. While Demir’s article focuses on Saray’s artist books and other paper-based works, Hudek examines And Journal of Art and Art Education, published by Saray and his wife and collaborator Jenni Boswell-Jones, within the context of the art world in the UK. Akkoyunlu takes a look at a series of seminal exhibitions Saray participated in Istanbul from the 1970s to the 1990s, tracing the transformation of exhibition-making into an independent practice among artists. Romi’s interview with the artist around institutional historicization deliberates on the archival process and the making of the exhibition at SALT. Taktak’s exhibition review from 1979, written under a pseudonym, combined with the periodical testimonies from fellow artists, falls in line with the book’s fundamental purpose of providing a nuanced contextual background that allows for a more lucid assessment of Saray, as well as providing the grounds for historical analysis.
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