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  Selma GUrbUz
10 March 1960 - 23 April 2021

Selma Gürbüz at Leighton House, 2011

For many art lovers, outside and inside Turkey, the late Selma Gürbüz stands out as the finest contemporary artist that Istanbul produced in the last four decades. I loved her work, her wit, her strength, her workaholic obsession and her fantasies; her passion for nature, animals, space, beautiful homes – she would design some of her own wonderful furniture in Istanbul and around Bodrum. Her self-portraits, in which she depicts herself as busy bees, ants or cats, always brought a smile. She identified with the creatures’ sense of ‘soldatesque’ dedication to self-preservation through work. Her feline self-portraits reflected her strong love not only of animals and life, but also her attraction to their seductive, sensual, sensitive and independent nature, something she felt close to.

Selma Gürbüz at Leighton House, 2011

Selma Gürbüz AND ROSE ISSA at Leighton House, 2011

Born in 1960 in Istanbul, Selma Gürbüz began her fine art education at Exeter College of Art and Design in the United Kingdom in 1980. She graduated from the Department of Painting of Marmara University’s Faculty of Fine Art in 1984. During her subsequent career she participated in numerous exhibitions in Paris, London, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Rome, Buenos Aires, Barcelona, representing Turkey in Kuwanju Biennale South Korea, and Japan where she also had an artist residency.

Selma Gürbüz at contemporary istanbul 2011

There is one consoling thought to contemplate alongside the sad news of her passing: she had always wanted to show her work at Istanbul Modern, her favourite place in her hometown. Her latest exhibition, This Place We Call World, which was prolonged till end of June at the museum, displayed many new works never seen before, with some earlier pieces from across three decades. It is an exquisite solo show in the beautiful museum where we met so often during my visits to Istanbul. This time the galleries are bearing witness to the influences of her recent trip to Africa, but also telling us of her fight against cancer, the experience of chemo. Some of her new self-portraits showed the face of death reflected in the mirror. Here were dancing skeletons, humanised depictions of nature, tales of struggle, survival, sickness and healing, and the inexorable passage of time.

Selma Gürbüz in her studio, istanbul 2011

Selma Gürbüz was a fighter in many ways. Only a few weeks before she died she was at the museum, sharing her dreams, her fears and her inner journeys with what was almost entirely a ‘virtual’ public. For few of her friends could make it to Istanbul for her opening, in the midst of covid pandemic. Many of us missed her farewell to artistic creativity. But the beautiful publication of the museum gives us some idea of the power and beauty of her last exhibition.


Selma Gürbüz london, 2011 and at art dubai 2011

I met Selma in the mid 1980s thanks to a common friend, Michket Krifa, who introduced us to each other in Paris. Though very young, she was already famous among a circle of artists and writers, in Istanbul as well as in France where she was soon working with Galerie Maeght. They represented her till 2010, when she had to demand the return of over 150 of her works that they claimed belonged to them. Her lawyer won her case. It was via some of these recovered works that I organised her first exhibition in London at the Leighton House Museum, in 2011, Selma Gürbüz, Shadows of Myself.  Before then, we undertook several joint projects: in Germany, a touring show organised by IFA, Love Affairs; in Barcelona, Harem Fantasies and The New Scheherazades, which travelled to Lyon, France; later I represented her several times at the Istanbul Art fair, where I felt her work, occupying a world of its own, was far more exceptional than the majority of Turkish artists. Needless to say that she worked with several galleries in Istanbul, and worldwide where she had almost on yearly basis a solo show.

Selma Gürbüz in bodrum,i 2011

Her mysterious and colourful realm was populated by human-animal hybrid entities, symbols, genderless figures defined by black shadows, and plants and animals found nowhere else. Thus she developed a mischievous, playful and unique artistic signature. Selma incorporated elements that belong to both Eastern and Western culture, merging their diverse concepts, aesthetics and techniques with masterly confidence. Until the end, her elaborately crafted works ‘woven with myths, legends, and fairy tales’ continued to transcend time and space.

London, 24 April 2021


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