With No Friends but the Mountains, Kunstverein Göttingen presents Melike Kara’s first institutional solo show in Germany. The artist, who is based in Cologne, shares a personal view of her Kurdish-Alevist roots using photography, painting and installation with questions regarding ancestry, tradition and community.
The center of Kara’s artistic analysis is the region surrounding the mountain massif “Düzgün Baba”, close to the city Nazımiye, in the east of Turkey. The mountain’s peak is named after the legend of a shepherd who was said to have miraculous powers. It is an Alevist pilgrimage site, where people go to seek healing and blessing. Kara’s family is originally from this region and some of her ancestors were shamans closely connected to the pilgrimage site. Kara visited Düzgün Baba with her grandmother, who also immigrated to Germany, and took part in several rites and sacrificial rituals. In the exhibition, Kara combines photographic material from the pilgrimage site and the people she met there, with references to cultural traditions that are on the verge of vanishing. For example, a series of her sculptures and paintings are dedicated to the so-called “deq” tattoos, which Kurdish women have decorating their faces, necks and hands. They are regarded as jewelry and as protection from bad spirits. The symbols represent important events in each woman’s life and are connected to meanings of happiness, hope, pain and fear. Nowadays, they mostly only adorn the older generations, thus Kara takes on the role of chronicler and records these diminishing traditions.
The mountains of Anatolia have special historical meaning to the Kurdish people in account of their political situation, as they offer the possibility to withdraw and be protected by them.
At the same time, a spiritual connection to the mountains and hills exist, which is equally present in many religions, where mountains are regarded as holy and godly places because of their close proximity to the heavens.
The Kurdish saying “No Friends but the Mountains” has, in the face of recent occurrences, acquired a sad relevance. The invasion by Turkish troops into the autonomously governed Kurdish regions of Northern Syria has pushed the longing for Kurdish political autonomy out of reach.
In the face of this, Kara dedicates the exhibition to the Kurds without land and builds a bridge from her personal story to their collective legacy. The act of connecting her painting practice with sculpture, installation and photography, underlines the narrative character of her works in the exhibition, all the more. They speak of knowledge production through rituals and oral tradition, as well as the meaning thereof for a population whose history is shaped by persecution and displacement.