A Room of One’s Own, on view at the Lower East Side’s Clemente Center, strives to make contemporary, and visual, part of the twentieth century’s literary canon – the essay of the same name, of course, by Virginia Woolf. In her text, Woolf describes the necessity of women, in particular, having a particular space in which to create. The curator, Osman Can Yerebakan, has thoughtfully taken this concept and transcended Woolf’s original intent to apply it to the global group of contemporary creators (visual artists exclusively in the case of the exhibition, but it would work just as well applied to contemporary writers, musicians, etc.)
Yerebakan outlines four conceptual groupings within the exhibition – the artist’s studio, the body as a room, memory (through its reconstructive powers) as a room, and the physical boundaries of inside and outside as defined by a room. While many of the works fit within two or three of these groupings, there is also an undercurrent of ideas regarding identity – political, ethnic, religious, sexual – perceptible throughout the works in the show. Though the vast majority of the artists have some tie to New York, they come from a wide range of backgrounds, reiterating the universal application of Woolf’s nearly 100-year-old ideas.
A true highlight of the exhibition is an immersive installation by Turkish artist Sinan Tuncay. The only piece granted its own room in a show about rooms, Tuncay recreates in photographed miniature dioramas a narrative of a traditional circumcision ceremony, as remembered from his own childhood. The photographs are placed amongst an installation featuring confetti, a knocked over chair, and a sheer curtain representing the foreskin, to suggest that the ceremony in question had just ended upon the spectator’s entrance into the scene.
Another installation, Lana Abu-Shamat’s Masbanet Abu Shamat, also draws upon the duality of physical space and personal identity as sort of room. Her work serves as a partial reconstruction of her family’s centuries-old soap factory, destroyed in 2002 in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in the form of a “remembered” soap recipe and seal, paired with a photograph of the ruins of the building. At once political and personal, Abu-Shamat’s work sums up Yerebakan’s interpretation of space, identity and memory to serve, each in their own way, as rooms.
Other works in the exhibition more literally refer to the physicality of the room idea and integrate what pose as architectural elements – for instance, Selime Okuyan’s Ascent/Descent, and Kambui Olujimi’s Where From Here. The latter poignantly salvages original brass doorknobs from a no longer extant Bed-Stuy brownstone, questioning the physical definition of space as well as that of the knobs, while also touching upon a nostalgia for the past (memory), as well as issues surrounding gentrification.
A Room One’s Own brings together an undoubtedly thought-provoking group of work by young artists to breathe new life into a classic text. What becomes clear throughout is that ownership, as suggested by Woolf, of one’s space, as well as of the body and remembered experiences, come together to inform one’s creativity, and Yerebakan’s efforts to stress this amongst a diverse group of works is certainly a success.
“A Room of One’s Own: An Exhibition”
Curated by Osman Can Yerebakan
Clemente Soto Velez Cultural & Educational Center
July 1st – July 28th, 2016
Writing by Jennifer Wolf
Photographs courtesy of Azmi Mert Erdem