Sapun Ghar


Sapun Ghar at Büyük Valide Han in Istanbul.

Mercan mahallesi, büyük valide han, çakmakçılar yokuşu no: 31, 34116 fatih – istanbul
Opening September, 25 2019 5-7 pm
Meet the artist: September, 26-28 2-7 pm
September, 26 – October, 16 2-7 pm Tuesday-Saturday

In 2015, the artist Iris Andraschek was artist in residence in Istanbul supported by the Austrian Chancellor and accustomed by the Istanbul based association DIYALOG. During her residency in Istanbul she started an ongoing project on the so called Aleppo Soap.

For the first time Iris Andrascheck is presenting this ongoing project at the Büyük Valide Han in Istanbul in the frame of parallel events of the 16th Istanbul Biennial organized in cooperation with the Austrian Cultural Forum in Istanbul.

Iris Andrascheck participated into the Mahalla Festival 2017 organized by DIYALOG and the INENART team in the frame of parallel events of the 15th Istanbul Biennial 2017.

The knowledge of the traditional production process and composition of olive oil, laurel oil and soda has been passed on for many centuries and can therefore be considered a cultural heritage. The cultural memory of the ingredient laurel dates back to the Roman antiquity as Ovid describing Daphne’s metamorphosis into a laurel tree illustrates.

When encountering the soaps during her residence in Istanbul in 2015, Andraschek was wondering how this traditional work was kept alive despite the war in Syria, which caused the destruction of Aleppo and its citizens’ migration. Her research brought her to Gaziantep—a town in Turkey close to the Syrian boarder—where a producer of traditional Aleppo Soap had relocated his factory. Successively continuing her research, the artist went to Antakya in December 2017 to be present at the harvest of laurel and to see the production of laurel oil.

A multiplicity of artworks emerged out of this research on site – drawings, photographs and installations with soaps, mosaics, videos. Notably, Andraschek considers the research process an essential part of the artwork. While videos and photographs seem like common media for documentation, Andraschek tries to challenge the claim of objective representation by also creating drawings, as they reflect the artist’s handwriting more directly. The drawings are portraits of people she encountered during her travels and to whose stories she listened. Thus, the Aleppo Soap project is an open-ended series of works in various media.

The Büyük Valide Han, built in 1651 near the covered bazar, is the biggest of its kind in Istanbul. To this day, it is a lively place as artisans use the historical rooms as their workshops. One of the 210 rooms—room 53—has been used for contemporary art exhibitions, performances, site specific installations, seminars and workshops for some years now. In autumn 2019, it hosts Iris Andraschek’s installation “sapun ghar”. The choice for this special location was made due to the artist’s interest in art in public spaces (which many former projects like “where do the borders go?” prove).

In places like the Büyük Valide Han, an unplanned encounter with art as well as with historical spaces used by diverse people is possible. Furthermore, places with history add a layer of meaning to the artworks installed therein unlike a white cube exhibition setting would do. The Han erected in the middle of Ottoman Istanbul was a place for travelers and tradesmen for centuries; a place where people from different regions and of different cultures came together under one roof—a political, social and religious centre. The history of the Han as a place of exchange and movement reflects the wide-ranging story of the Aleppo Soap.

Although the project’s content are people’s personal stories or the story of a small factory, it also hints on universal matters: borders, colonialism, displacement of people and of local traditions… The war in Syria caused the destruction of Aleppo and endangered cultural heritage of material as well as immaterial kind—the Aleppo Soap is a symbol for this upheaval.

The installation at Büyük Valide Han consists of Aleppo Soaps placed in a way that is recalling the ground plan of Aleppo´s historic bazar quarter (Souq El Medine) which was destroyed during the war. Also part of the installation is the video “Sapun Ghar“ (20 min, 2016) that follows the process of producing the soap in Gaziantep.

Thomas Büsch

Filmmaker, Founding Member and Secretary General of diyalog, promotion of cultural exchange with Turkey. Since 2012 he is also project manager of InEnArt.

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