Mother-son team of artists explore ghosts and death

A page from Binbir Niyet (One Thousand and One Fortunes) written by Mehmed Gayur printed in Amedi Printing House, 1928.| Photo courtesy of Dilara and Derya Akay

When Derya and Dilara Akay found out they could work together on an art project that has personal significance to them, they jumped on the opportunity.

“We live on different continents and with this project we wanted to spend time together and learn from each other in the light of collaborating as artist aside from being mother and son,” they said.

Since 2005, Derya has lived in Vancouver to study at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. Dilara lives in Turkey and sometimes visits Vancouver to spend time with her son. Both artists have been pursuing their careers separately: Derya in Vancouver, and Dilara in Istanbul. They have never worked together as collaborators until now.

Their exhibit, Ghost Spring, will be shown in Vancouver from Jan. 6 to Feb. 17, mainly at the Grunt Gallery.

“We think that ghosts are political and they haunt for a reason – to claim something from the future,” say the Akays.

Death and the family

This two-person show explores funeral practices within their own family in Turkey, which are passed down from one generation to the next. The exhibit focuses on the many rituals around death – especially on food that is presented to, and eaten for, the dead. The works in the gallery include garlands, flowers, texts and drawings as offerings to their ancestors.

“The installation is meant to evoke a shrine and celebrate the rituals we do for the dead and for the living. The activations will take their genesis from family rituals around death and burial reinterpreted for the exhibition,” say the Akays.

Through recognizing the wounds created by violence, the Akays observe that only some lives are considered grievable. Part research based, part event based, part installation based, they are creating a space for grieving, eulogies, wakes, mourning, goodbyes, vigils, laments, wailings and the cries of voices often suppressed.

“We will create a place to pray and events to eat and play. We will find ways to deal with ghosts, griefs of many geographies and generations and recreate ways to coexist. With this research and exhibition we would like to find new matrilineal narratives by analyzing our own ‘ghosts,’ nature, behaviour and culture in comparison to different geographies, cultures, experiences and expectations,” they say.

They want their work to allow them and others to re-experience a visit, a meeting or a get together with ancestors and loved ones who have passed or with people whom they have never met.

“We will try to remember and will try to commemorate in act and in physicality. We want to recreate instances and feelings of graveyards and funerals and try to answer and fulfill the needs of the ghosts and come to a point where they rest in peace,” say the Akays.

The Akays want to honour victims of Armenian Genocide, victims of the Beslan School Massacre, missing people of Saturday Mothers (Cumartesi Anneleri), missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and Two-Spirit People, victims of residential schools, children of La Llorona, Kurdish guerrillas, Turkish soldiers, missing and murdered people of displacement due to ongoing wars, Ajlan Kurdi, Ahraz, Taybet Ana, Hatun Ana, Mutlu Dede, Sev Sevil Aşık Davut Dede.

Another feature will be a publication translating a book of fortunes passed down from Derya’s paternal great grandmother to his mother, Dilara. Titled Binbir Niyet (One Thousand and One Fortunes) and written by Mehmed Gayur in 1928 in Ottoman script. The translation of this text into modern Turkish and then to English is prepared for the exhibition.

“The book was originally published in the period between the Ottoman Empire and the birth of the Republic of Turkey gives it an important significance in time and it being kept as a family relic without being understood for many years suggests significance of interest in fortune telling and information received from other lives or underground,” say the Akays.


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