Turkish delight

Hale Tenger, Turkish delight

Hale Tenger, Turkish delight

Hale Tenger, Turkish delight, Civic Art Gallery, Savona, 2003

Turkish Delight

For my contribution to the 2nd Biennial of Ceramics in Contemporary Art I wanted to use a replica of the ancient clay Priapus figure from the collection of the Ephesus Museum in Selcuk, Turkey. I had used it previously as a ready-made in touristic-kitsch, cast-brass form in a wall installation I made at the 3rd Istanbul Biennial in 1992, titled I Know People Like This. The piece consisted of an army of Priapus figures forming a crescent  with a star in the middle surrounded by hear-no-speak-no-see-no-evil monkey statuettes in the background, with few more Priapus stars scattered throughout the whole composition.
The Priapus figure considered as a fertility god originated at Lampsacus, now known as Lapseki and located in north-west Turkey. It was later adopted by the Greeks, who recognised him as the son of Dionysus and Aphrodite. The Romans, too, adopted this cult and Priapus figures were set up in gardens as a kind of scarecrow to ward off not only animal pests but also the evil eye and harmful spirits. With its significance transformed in the 20th century, it is now sold on markets as a sex-joke souvenir object in the form of clay or brass statuettes and key-ring ornaments. Rather ironically, in some adaptations of its current manifestation — which I used in I Know People Like This  — the head has shrunk in comparison to the ancient versions, thus transforming the Priapus into a “dick head.” 
I was taken to court for creating the piece and accused of insulting the Turkish flag. The first court case was dropped with my successful defence based on the fact that various configurations of stars and crescents were used in the flags of 12 other nations and there was no actual flag used in the piece. The case was then taken to a higher court where I was accused of insulting and disgracing the emblems of the Turkish nation. In order to prevent me from ending up in prison, my lawyer focused his defence this time on the issue that the piece was symbolizing the universal/heavenly oppression of women by men and that it had nothing to do specifically with being a Turk. As a result I was cleared of the charges. While the gender issue was of some significance as I could not have made the same point by using Venus of Willendorf rather than the priapus figure, it was not actually my main concern in relation to this piece. Freedom of speech has its limits and if I wanted to avoid going to prison I had no opportunity to openly criticize the harsh politics of the ruling power in Turkey — especially in the southeast at that time. Nevertheless, the visual reading was out there in the open and was well understood by the public. 
A decade after making the piece mentioned above, I wanted to use the Priapus figure again, not an adapted version but rather a replica, this time retaining its ancient significance of celebrating  fertility. In order to express  this fruitfulness in a light-hearted manner I used a combination of my favorite Iznik plate patterns from the Ottoman era all over his body as tattoos: tulips on the arms, flowers all over the body and radiant vines winding around the phallus bearing dainty bunches of grape. This may be seen as wishful celebration of the reforms that have been long awaited in Turkey — reforms which have actually been introduced lately albeit at a much slower pace and on a much reduced scale than had been predicted. Not being overly optimistic for the near future and seeing confusion as the most dominant characteristic of the region, I preferred to use cloud patterns from Iznik wares to adorn the head of my version of Priapus that I call Turkish Delight.
Finally, and most importantly, I would like to mention that it was a great pleasure for me to meet and work with Mrs Rina Moliardo, Mr Luciano Figallo and Ms Barbara Arto at Fenice Studio in Albisola.  Although I have some years’ experience in ceramics I preferred to leave the application of my design without any hesitation to the magic touch of Mrs Rina Moliardo who is like an angel in my eyes.

Hale Tenger

Turkish delight by Hale Tenger was made in Albisola in 2003 during the 2nd Biennial of Ceramics in Contemporary Art.