The paintings and ceramic sculptures of Elif Uras explore what she describes as “shifting notions of gender and class within the context of the struggle between modernity and tradition.” Uras’s sculptures are made onsite in Iznik, Turkey (originally Nicaea, named after a nymph in Greek mythology), a town celebrated for its tile and ceramic production during the Ottoman Empire. Uras’s imagery merges traditional nonfigurative Turkish art with the Western figurative tradition, while also exploring the representation of the female body across cultures.
Historically, Iznik reflected the patriarchy of the traditional society, with male artists and craftspeople producing work that adorned the walls of spaces mostly limited to men, such as their segregated quarters in mosques and baths. In Iznik today, women are very dominant in both the management and labor of ceramic production. Uras’s sensous vessels reflect this transformation of gender roles by placing the female figure center stage. Whether depicting women farming olives and making pottery—two industries that connect the present with the past—or alluding to the pregnant body, Uras’s vessels and plates populate the gallery with distinctly feminine forms and imagery.
Uras has transformed The Aldrich’s Screening Room to resemble an interior courtyard, a prominent feature in traditional Turkish architecture, incorporating domestic objects and architectural motifs. A functioning ceramic fountain sits in the center of the gallery atop a carpet-like grid of painted tiles. Water and its constant flow, popular symbols of fertility and prosperity, reinforce the exhibition’s primordial focus. In a tiled wall niche, small vessels are placed on a long shelf, a nod to their inherent domesticity. On the outside wall, a painted tile mural inspired by a historic Iznik panel from the Topkapi Museum presents central figures that resemble Art Nouveau water nymphs.
Alongside Uras’s own work, created especially for The Aldrich, the exhibition presents an original Iznik plate dating from the first half of the sixteenth century, on loan from the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Iznik plate is positioned in dialogue with Uras’s plates and vessels, some of which incorporate its intricate spiral motif.
Amy Smith-Stewart, Senior Curator.
Elif Uras was born in 1972 in Ankara, Turkey, and lives and works in New York City and Istanbul, Turkey.