Turkish artist Selma Gürbüz, known for her works depicting human-animal hybrids and dark, genderless figures, died on April 22 in Istanbul of complications from Covid-19. She was sixty-one years old. Over the course of a forty-year career, Gürbüz has built a multidimensional practice encompassing painting, sculpture, installations, video, weaving and printmaking, all in the service of the search for femininity and the relationship between humanity and nature.
“It scares me that we are preparing our demise with our own hands by destroying nature that we do not initially have,” said Gürbüz. Art Dog Istanbul earlier this year. “We don’t just determine our own fate; we are also destroying natural states that are millions of years old, the ecological balance that creates life on earth, its animals and plants. “
Born in Istanbul in 1960, Gürbüz began studying art education at Exeter College in the UK before focusing on sculpture and painting at the school’s College of Art and Design, where she is graduated in 1982. She obtained her MA in Fine Arts from Istanbul Marmara University in 1984, and two years later mounted her first solo exhibition in Istanbul. One of her early favorite methods was applying ink to handmade paper, a practice she began in the 1980s and will continue to employ throughout her career. She produced works in a cutout style reminiscent of Matisse’s and began painting in oil on canvas which was often handmade, further expressing her theme of connectedness. Gürbüz drew inspiration from Eastern and Western cultures, emphasizing the Ottoman Chintomani motifs and Persian-style motifs of the former, as well as the ideas about light and color of the latter. Although his palette was wide, black featured heavily from the start and would continue to do so, as Gürbüz often used the hue to limn blurry scenes and indistinct, shady beings.
“The shadow is invincible. Nothing can dominate the shadow ”, Gurbüz told Global Voices in 2020. “What is real does not change, but its shadow can change. The shadow is a two-dimensional representation. This shows us ourselves.
The artist’s sculptures, like his paintings and drawings, frequently depicted fantastic occupants of a dream world, representing a kind of intercultural and, in some cases, interspecific synthesis. Gürbüz has always been drawn to the concept of connectivity, between past and present, human and nature, myth and reality. His work embodying this idea was also informed by his practice of meditation and by his use while working of a Japanese breathing technique that required him to work on his knees while holding his breath.
Gurbüz’s work is kept in the collections of the British Museum in London, the Fondation Maeght in Paris and Anakara, the National Museum of Art and Sculpture of Turkey, as well as in those of Istanbul Modern, the Istanbul Bilgi University, SantralInstanbul and Proje 4L, all in Istanbul. “This place we call the world”, a retrospective highlighting the work inspired by Gürbüz’s recent trip to Africa, opened on November 5, 2020, at Istanbul Modern, before the artist fell ill. It remains visible until June 30.