Places / Turkey

“It’s Great For An Artist To Live In Vienna” – Nazim Unal Yilmaz

I visited Nazim at his studio and we discussed Turkish contemporary art and how life of young foreign artists in Vienna looks like…

The Krokus Gallery in Bratislava currently presents the first joint exhibition of two young artists living and working in Vienna: the painter Nazim Ünal Yilmaz and the sculptor Kay Walkowiak. The exhibition entitled Transtone is a selection of their recent work. Only about 60 kilometers away, Bratislava is the closest capital to Vienna. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain there has been an increasing collaboration between these two cities but, as curator Gabriela Kistova knows, many artists from Vienna who were invited by the Krokus Gallery came to Bratislava for their very first time.

Tell me about your project. What is it about? Why and how did it happen?

Nazim: Gabriela asked me about this project. I thought why not. It’s interesting to work in collaborations. Gabriela suggested Kay to me, and I liked his works. I thought it would work on the level of iconography. We checked our works, and what we found in common was this fetishism and gender theme. We picked the title “Transtone” because transformation and fetishism are related to desire, transforming the body.

Speaking of gender: Have you been at the Naked Men exhibition in Leopold Museum?

Nazim: Yes, it is very provocative. But it’s interesting that this kind of exhibition took place in such a museum. It’s a museum for Austrian artists. To be honest, I haven’t seen a good exhibition there, and I don’t find this one good. But for the first time they made exhibition about contemporary art with new media, for example. But it’s not even about male identity. It’s just naked men. They took some male naked figures from all periods of history, that’s all. And all exhibitions there are like this, with a very weak context. Gender has become a boring theme. Nobody really thinks about imaginary contraction of sexual identity.

Why did you choose Vienna?

Nazim: I’m from Istanbul. I wanted to go abroad, to Europe. And the easiest way was to do this as a student. At first I was thinking about London because I spoke English. But it was too expensive and I couldn’t get a visa. I didn’t know anything about Vienna back then. Maybe if I had known that there are so many Turkish people I wouldn’t have come. I didn’t want to go to Berlin because it’s too Turkish. I wanted to go abroad to something different. But I like it here.

Why do you like Vienna? Why didn’t you return to Istanbul?

Nazim: Why am I still here? I enjoy it. It’s great for an artist to live here. There are some good things that I like in Vienna: Here you find a good atmosphere, which allows you to focus on your own projects because it’s very quiet. It’s like living in a big village, and for that reason I like Vienna. On the other hand, you have all the opportunities of a big Western city, like museums, galleries, etc., and you have really good facilities like a great transportation system, bio food, and much more. But I travel a lot between Vienna and Istanbul.

Is there anything in common between Vienna and Istanbul?

Nazim: I think all big capitals have a history, strong character, some stereotypes. For example, Vienna is a city to hate. If you look at Austrian literature or artists… from Thomas Bernhard to… I’m so bad in names. They always hated or swore about Vienna. It is a hall of shit. But, on the other hand, they loved to live here. They liked this bohemian life, the mood of the city. But Istanbul, for example, is getting worse and worse, uglier, more expensive. Still, it’s a city to adore. Artists are complaining about everything but still they are loving it.

What do you miss in Vienna from Istanbul?

Nazim: I miss the sea. And friends. I’m not a party person, but when friends come from abroad, it is difficult to go out somewhere unless it is Friday. In Istanbul you can party every day. Vienna is an old city and very inspiring. But there are not so many opportunities for young artists. There are some off-spaces, but it’s still hard. In Turkey, your career can grow very fast. Now the situation is more democratic.

What can you say about Turkish contemporary art?

Nazim: When I was a student, contemporary art started to become more popular. The main tendencies now are quiet conceptual, politically engaged. It’s not positive or negative, just changing. The art market is so big, and every year Istanbul becomes more and more established, international. There is more money, more galleries. Painting is more accepted. Even the first generation of conceptual artists started to paint as well. It is easier to observe changes, if you look at the Istanbul Biennale in the last 6 years. Every year they are getting better, they are forcing their borders. And I’m really excited to see what is going to come this year.

Is there currently a tendency for artists to move away from Turkey?

Nazim: No. At the beginning artists were supported by the government and sent to Europe only to create so-called “national” art once they returned. They were meant to come back, but they didn’t. Now the art market is growing and more and more artists are interested in living there. And I am not talking only about Turkish artists.

Can you get a good art education in Turkey?

Nazim: State universities, which are for free, are not very good – too conservative. There are some private ones. The Biennale plays a big role in teaching new generations. Some funds created by banks work together with professional curators… like Rene Block. Maybe it’s not really fair to say so, but I think he created Turkish contemporary art. He showed it in Europe and America. He said, “We are artists. Why not?” In Turkey it was always in opposition to something political. But now it’s becoming more about money.

Could it be dangerous to be political?

Nazim: I use the symbol of the Turkish flag sometimes. And if someone complains about it, I would have problems. You know, YouTube was forbidden in Turkey for 6 years because some artists made a few videos, which were humiliating for the president… but I don’t care. If I want to do something, I do. But I don’t want to provoke. That’s why I didn’t like the Turkish art scene before – although now it’s changing – it was all just a cheap trick. Everybody used the same language just to get noticed.

What makes you happy?

Nazim: Creating artworks together with my friends makes me happy. I am always doing it, inviting friends who are not artists to participate in the process and to spend some quality time together. You always have daily problems around you, but they disappear once I stand in front of the canvas. The only problem I have in my studio is painting. I forget the rest. Here I have my own music, it’s very warm, and I enjoy warmth like a cat. Then somebody visits me and brings new ideas and inspires me. And it becomes something that I would never have done alone. I would have never expected it. And this is what makes me happy.


Nazim Ünal Yilmaz (*1981, TR/AT) studied at Anatolia University and at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. In his expressive, figurative compositions, you can find references to the work of the early avant-garde as well as to more historical art of the Renaissance and the Baroque periods. For Yilmaz painting is “both a field for free existence and an act of resistance” (Markus Graf). Selected exhibitions: Frankfurter Kunstverein (2012), Pilevneli Project Istanbul (2012), C24 Gallery New York (2011), Depo Istanbul (2011), Forum Stadtpark Graz (2008).

The exhibition at Krokus Gallery is open till March 15, 2013.

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