Nuray Erden (Turkey)
Born in Diyarbakır in South-East Turkey, Nuray Erden grew up at the Aegean Coast in Izmir. She studied law at İstanbul University and worked as a lawyer for ten years but then changed the trajectory of her activities – she decided to study arts.
There, she discovered that ceramics is the real passion of her life. Together with her friend Görsev Bilkay, she created a ceramic centre: the İdol Art House.
She exhibited her works in numerous competitions, biennales and triennials in Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Taiwan and Turkey. Those ceramics works were included in more than 25 catalogues. She organised 15 solo and more than 30 group exhibitions. Her pieces can be found in museums in six countries in several continents. Subsequently, her work was awarded numerous international prizes.
While creating her arts pieces, she confronted herself with pressing societal challenges like human and animal rights, ecology, environment and as well the inclusion of individuals with impediments. Several years ago, she started serving as a member of the arts committee of the Accessible Izmir Congress, improving the city’s accessibility for disabled.
Her personal involvement with the civil society and public institutions and the interaction with a close friend from the Izmir Library for Visually Impaired drew her attention to a possibly insurmountable problem: how can sightless people grasp the beauty of paintings.
She decided to start organizing “accessible exhibitions”.
While it is forbidden to touch artworks in usual museums and art exhibitions, such physical contact is the centre of the artistic focus of her project.
To expand this innovative approach, she developed, alongside the Disability Awareness Centre of the Izmir Metropolitan Municipality, a new idea.
Together with them, she created the first tactile museum of modern arts in the world: Izdem, the “İzmir Dokunulabilir Engelsiz Sanatlar Müzesi” (Izmir Touchable Modern Arts Museum).
44 ceramic replicas of emblematic paintings produced by the artists of İdol Art House are now open to be experienced by physical touch.
Subsequently, it opened up a new – and genuinely inclusive – horizon in regard to how the beauty of paintings can be enjoyed. This falls within the vison of “Another Disability Policy is Possible”.
As such, the Izmir Touchable Modern Arts Museum enables paintings from Salvador Dali, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Jean Miro, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Alfred Sisley, and Vincent van Gogh to be experienced by audiences, formerly excluded.
It is not seldom to witness emotional scenes at the museum when visually impaired people make such an experience for the first time in their life.
Following the hand-over of the award, Nuray Erden addressed the public with the following words:
Good evening, everyone,
Precisely one month ago, on the 6th of February, more than fifty thousand people lost their lives to devastating earthquakes in my native Turkey and neighbouring Syria. I commemorate the people who died, and anybody who may have lost a child, a parent, or other loved ones, in this biggest earthquake of the last century, and I would like to express my gratitude to those from around the world who stand by us in this difficult time for their immense support.
Receiving this award is an honour and I am thrilled to stand in line amongst impressive women like you who have achieved great things.
Congratulations to all of you who are awarded here tonight.
I am here because I believe in the necessity of tactile art for visually impaired people.
I am here because I believe that the disciplines called “Visual Arts” do not make sense for 36 million people in this world who have no vision at all and 217 million people with severe visual impairment.
And I am here because I am exploring ways to eliminate this meaninglessness, together with 22 ceramic artists from Idol Art House that I founded 25 years ago with my friend Görsev Bilkay.
We have undertaken many social responsibility projects. Roughly ten years ago, we started to question ourselves and our art:
Why could visually impaired people not come to our exhibitions?
Why was it forbidden to touch the works in the exhibition halls?
Or, quite frankly, why was art not accessible for everyone?
Thus, from that day on we made all the exhibitions we opened touchable and perceptible with the Braille alphabet and included audio descriptions.
You can imagine the amazement of visually impaired art lovers. Sculptures and ceramic works could be perceived by touch – unlike paintings however, a two-dimensional art branch.
This is how our “Touchable Paintings” project has started. We began producing replicas of famous paintings of the Modern Art Era in ceramic relief.
While we were giving dimension to these works, we bring brushstrokes, horses, sunflowers or even abstract forms to life, taking them out of their canvases.
The emotions appearing in the faces of visually impaired visitors as Munch’s “Scream” or Dali’s “The persistence of memory” became accessible to them for the first time in their lives through the touch of their hands. Unsurprisingly they felt so powerful that recreating these experiences has become our main motivation to produce more than a hundred different paintings in ceramic relief.
After witnessing these unforgettable moments in various exhibitions and international congresses our aim was to create a museum.
And with the support of the Izmir Metropolitan Municipality, IZDEM – The Izmir Touchable Museum of Modern Art – became the home of this project two years ago.
It is the first museum of its kind in my country and the world. As a symbol of inclusion, it hands full access to 44 relief works and has been our greatest source of pride and our glimmer of hope for future projects in and outside of Turkey.
I would like to thank my partner Görsev Bilkay, the esteemed members of Idol Art House, the Mayor of Izmir Mr Tunç Soyer, the Municipality staff, the Turkish Library for the Visually Impaired and everyone else who contributed to our projects. I am humbled to receive this award on their behalf.
Many thanks to the esteemed executives of the International Forum for Female Leadership for their sensitivity to the rights of the disabled.
As women from Idol Art House, we pursue our dreams.
We know that we touch the hearts of the people who touch our works, and we are keen to make art accessible to everyone – in order to touch hearts in Europe and beyond.
I greet you all with love, longing for a world removed from all barriers.
Thank you so much.