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Category Archives: Essays

Do Birds Perch on Goddesses’ Crowns?


Güven Turan This text is from the catalogue published by Garanti Art Gallery of Istanbul, for Can Göknil exhibition in 1994. Every Can Göknil exhibition is itself a work of art in its own right. That’s because each of her exhibitions develops organically within the context of a single, overarching view. Until quite recently, Göknil has been taking the oral and written traditions of Anatolian folk culture as the bases for her shows; this time, she carries us back-much, much further back-taking another outgrowth of the soil of Anatolia as her starting point: Neolithic mother goddesses. Anatolia is where the […]

Creation Myths from Central Asia to Anatolia


Images from the Creation Myths of the Turks This text is from the catalogue published by Yapı Kredi Art Galleries for Can Göknil exhibitions in Istanbul, Izmir and Adana in 1997. The questions of how the universe, the world, or people came into being have been asked over and over again everywhere. People need to know where they have come from in order to establish or protect a way of life or to give meaning to birth and to death. The result has been the appearance of a variety of beliefs concerning creation. These beliefs, transformed into tales, have led […]

The Magic of Magic: From the Tablets of Destinies to Amulets


Murat Ural This text is from the book published by Milli Reasurans Art Gallery of Istanbul, for Can Göknil exhibition on April 6-May 6 1999. According to an ancient Babylonian legend, the gods determined the destinies of human beings and inscribed them on tablets that they suspended from the sky. One day Anzu the Bird-Man flew up to the heavens and stole the tablets causing great consternation in the world. Terrified because their fates were now in the hands of the Bird-Man, people sought ways to protect themselves. They discovered that they could do this by engraving cylindrical or flat […]

Eight Birds, Nine Girls: Light-girls , Impudent Cutups: Dark-girls


Once upon a time, a long time ago when there were not just seven heavens but seventeen­-in fact, thirty-three-Ülgen the God sat on a great, gold-embroidered throne of a mountain set upon the finial of the sky, for that was where he had withdrawn to after having created the universe. He had nine sons and nine daughters. From high above he governed the people of the earth with the help of his sons and other emissaries, through whom he enlightened the shamans. The clouds beneath him reflected his feelings and moods. Many a world there was among the vaults of […]

Mythology, Book Art and Can Göknil


Metin AND THE PAINTINGS OF CAN GÖKNIL DISPLAYED in her personal exhibitions in recent years weave a framework of unity around mythological subjects. For the artist, mythology is the richest and most universal of sources. In the West, the majority of painters, sculptors, oratorio and opera composers, librettists, choreographs, poets and writers have been using this rich source for centuries. Here, on the other hand, apart from the odd poet, composer or playwright, this source remained untapped. Can Göknil is an artist who has set herself on mythology. She chooses her mythological subject, explores it in depth, and then sets […]

“The Matter Bodes Well”


Geomancy is an ancient form of divination in which handfuls of soil or other materials are scattered on the ground or markings are made in the earth or sand to produce configurations that can be “read”. When the augury was propitious, the geomancer would signal this by saying “The matter bodes well.” (1)  Can Göknil and I first worked together in 1991 when I wrote the essay for the catalogue of her “Amulets” exhibition that she had spent two years preparing for. During this project I traced the roots of ancient dreams and of contemporary mythologies in the surrealistic world […]

Can Göknil: Contemporary Interpretations for Mythological Tales


Dilek Sener The first thing that we need to do here is take a stroll through the bundle of questions thrown up by debates focusing on the meanings imparted by the notions of “Turkish art” and “Anatolian art” and dispel the clouds of dust that have been created by those who confuse these two fundamental but different concepts. “Turkish art” is relevant to a period that begins in the 3rd century BC and extends until the present and that takes place in a broad geographical region from Central Asia to Anatolia. Because of the elements of time and space that […]

Codices of the East and the West


Can Göknil To enhance  visual communication for my book-art projects, I frequently delved into the history of bookmaking in our culture. This  led me to organize several major exhibitions, all inspired by the exquisite book arts of The Palace, the miniatured manuscripts: Kazim Taskent Art Gallery, 1999, Istanbul; House of Humour  Satire, 2001, Gabrovo; Chihiro Art Museum, Tokyo, 2002; The National Museum of Women in the Arts, 2004, Washington DC. Three of my original volumes are now in the collection of The National Art Library (Victoria & Albert Museum, London.) I discovered the first illustrated folk stories of XIXth century […]

Lunar Attraction


Can Göknil August 2008 Have you ever wondered when human beings started to be fascinated by the moon? In the Dordogne region of southwestern France, a moon-goddess greets us from a rock relief carved some say 20,000–others 18,000–years ago. Known as the “Venus of Laussel”, this is a prehistoric fertility symbol holding a crescent-like horn in her right hand and clasping her belly with the other. She stands at the Musée d’Aquitain just as proudly today as ever. Celestial bodies were considered sacred and the moon and moon-like shapes such as crescents and horns were regarded as symbols of fertility […]