La Pietà, La Biennale di Venzia – 56th International Art Exhibition, May 6 – November 22, 2015



Ahmet Güneştekin’s installation of paintings and sculpture for La Pietà embraces issues of cultural history, political history, and gender. Inspired by an important archeological monument in Istanbul that is less familiar to Western audiences, the original Million Stone, or Milion Tași as it is known in Turkish, was built by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century when Byzatntium, eventually renamed Constantinople, was christened as the new Rome, the seat of power for the Byzantine Empire. The object emulated a similar object buit, which was much originally much more ornate, was the center of the Byzantine world, the point from which the distance to every major point in the empire was measured. Today, it exists as a remnant of the original, resembling a crumbling obelisk, with all of the associations such objects have: erosion caused by time, phallic power, and a sense of infinity.

Güneştekin’s installation both celebrates and deconstructs the mythology of this object. A series of three relief works that represent the region’s three major religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—guide the visitor through the church to Güneştekin’s own recreation of the Million Stone, appropriately placed at the center of the installation. But its phallic symbolism is challenged by a cycle of paintings that recount the story of Lilith, renowned for being the first rebellion against male domination. The exhibition concludes with a major new sculpture of block-like giant colorful letters that spell outKostantiniyye, the name adopted by the Turkish Ottoman’s when the city first became a republic. Within each letter, in relief as with the Holy Encounter works that lead visitors into the exhibition, the various names the city has been called since its incarnation: Byzantion, Byzantium, Nea Roma, Constantinople, Constatinopolis, Dersaadet, Isambol, Asitane, and Dar-ul-Hilafet, replete with the same religious symbols in relief found in the cycle of works that opened the installation. It provides a kind of closure to the show and is like a dense journey through the city’s frenzied history. Only Istanbul is omitted, the name the city has carried since Turkey became a republic in 1923.

Thus, Güneştekin offers visitors an immersion in ancient mythology and cultural evolution whose imagery and significance resonate with the tumult of history and politics in play at this very moment in time.