Gülsün Karamustafa (1946, Ankara) is an artist whose work provides a multi-layered depiction of critical socio-political issues in Istanbul over four decades. Arrested and imprisoned for six months after the 1971 military coup and then deprived of a passport and travel rights for 16 years, she became an intense observer of the waves of change that overtook the country, reflecting her thoughts in her prolific artistic production.
Fearless and wide-ranging in her choice of subjects, Karamustafa deals intelligently and sensitively with complexities, returning frequently to reconsider them from a different angle or through a new medium. Gender roles are scrutinised in works such as From the Outside, which shows women’s attempts to navigate both secular modernism and religious tradition, and her three-channel video-installation Men Crying (2001). Idealisation of western taste and attitudes is examined in Etiquette (The Taming of the East, 2011-13).
Retrieving histories from oblivion, Karamustafa opens windows on the past. The Settler (2003) concerns family displacement, and Courier (1991), which references the exodus from the Balkans, depicts family memorabilia sewn into children’s vests – fragile hopes of safe passage and preservation of meaning. Her works often convey a tender critique and wish to protect things from destruction, whether by the state or changing notions of acceptability. The 1955 violence against the Greek minority and successive domestic occupation are evoked in The Apartment Building (2012).
A grounded citizen and an educator, Karamustafa is a guide and inspiration for new generations and women artists.