Pera Museum is hosting the works of Isabel Muñoz, a renowned photographer who captures the essence, aesthetics, and lifestyles of different cultures, in her series focusing on Göbeklitepe, one of Turkey’s most important archaeological sites, and the surrounding Stone Hills. Recognized as one of the top 12 contemporary photographers by the Prado Museum and featured in prestigious exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale and the International Center of Photography in New York, the Spanish artist presents her new exhibition titled “Isabel Muñoz: A New Story – Photographs from Göbeklitepe and Its Surroundings” at Pera Museum from June 15th to September 17th.
Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation’s Pera Museum brings the photographs of Isabel Muñoz, capturing the archaeological sites of Göbeklitepe and its surroundings from the Stone Hills, which date back approximately 12,000 years, to Istanbul for the first time. The exhibition “Isabel Muñoz: A New Story – Photographs from Göbeklitepe and Its Surroundings” offers the opportunity to explore Göbeklitepe, which is believed to be one of the oldest cultic areas in the world and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2018, as well as Karahantepe and Sayburç through Muñoz’s captivating perspective. Curated by François Cheval, the Director of the Mougins Photography Center, who has been involved in numerous international photography projects, the exhibition can be visited at Pera Museum from June 15th to September 17th, 2023.
Isabel Muñoz, known for her monochromatic portraits exploring people and cultures from different geographical locations, first met art enthusiasts from Turkey with her exhibition opened in Istanbul in 1992. Having frequently visited Turkey, the artist delves into various subjects such as sema dancers, olive oil workers, oil wrestling, and the Sulukule Roma community. In her new exhibition at Pera Museum, she follows the questions of mystery, origin, and infinity, deeply influenced by Göbeklitepe and its surroundings.
Muñoz mentions that she had the opportunity to collaborate with archaeologists from Turkey for the first time and expresses, “As a photographer, I have a natural curiosity and an endless desire to discover new things. Even before having a camera in my hands, I was trying to understand how people lived and felt in the past. In Spain, we have a rich tradition of Paleolithic art, but in Göbeklitepe, I found a spiritual element that appealed to me.”
In her photographs featured in the exhibition, Muñoz goes beyond capturing hallucinatory images, bewildering remnants, and monumental megaliths that oscillate between the unknown, mystery, and artwork in one of the most mystical areas of human history. As curator François Cheval states, she almost bows before these magnificent scenes.
François Cheval emphasizes that Isabel Muñoz’s entire body of work is based on totems, saying, “Her visual traces incessantly gather those signs that narrate our history. It is not the history of events, but the history of ancient, mythical, legendary times that she assembles. It is always a ‘new history’ that starts afresh. Her photographs define the belongingness of the storyteller to that long chain of ancestry. In front of these images, we find ourselves facing a narrative that witnesses our proximity to the ‘guardians of the other world’ with her ever-renewed passion, rather than an aesthetic event. Isabel Muñoz’s photographs are a festive invitation, a collective celebration that connects us to our distant ancestors.”
Cheval further states that Muñoz’s photographs taken at Göbeklitepe invite the viewer to the limits of transcendence. He continues, “Photography has become more than just an image replacing reality, more than a mere medium; it takes us to the boundaries of transcendence. It leads us to that moment that has been sought after and rarely captured, the moment of integration with the Universe. There is no difference between the hunter-gatherers who built the monoliths and Isabel Muñoz, who shapes light. Each one, in their own unique way, brings forth the hopes and desires of a sacred site. Göbeklitepe is the substance of the world, the mother of matter. It is the task of photography to allow it to reveal itself in all its brilliance. The time of human history, the time of conflicts and debates, the harmonious encounter between the living and the dead, all takes place under the protection of supernatural forces.”
Isabel Muñoz, who showcases unique ways of life on Earth in her work and strives to document and transmit cultural heritage to the future, describes her archaeological studies for this exhibition focused on Göbeklitepe and its surroundings as a new experience for her.
Being passionately connected to archaeology and architecture, the artist explains this experience in one of her interviews: “There are no living people in the photographs I take, but this time my focus is different. I have a passion for archaeology and architecture. When I visited Turkey, the beauty of your cemeteries, especially the incredibly poetic Ottoman cemeteries, deeply impressed me. Although there are no physical figures, the human element is always present. When I see these beautiful Ottoman stones and read the poems inscribed on them, I can imagine the physical women they represent. Similarly, when I took photographs at Göbeklitepe, I tried to immerse myself in this ancient culture and understand it in my own style. I drew inspiration from their knowledge of the stars and used their understanding of light to create my images. When I photographed Göbeklitepe and Karahantepe, I saw them as living entities. The anthropomorphic animal figures with human figures beneath them also contributed to this sense of vitality. To me, even the stones there were alive.”
“Isabel Muñoz: Yeni Bir Hikâye – Göbeklitepe ve Çevresinden Fotoğraflar” not only offers the opportunity to explore the mysterious geography of human history through Muñoz’s compelling perspective but also surprises viewers with new techniques and printing methods employed by the renowned photographer. Among these innovative works, the exhibition features photographs where Muñoz uses the “Tepetype” technique, inspired by ancient methods, for the first time, as well as an intriguing artwork that includes an extraordinary self-portrait reflecting her brain’s electrical waves captured through EEG while gazing at the human-headed figure in Karahantepe. These captivating pieces showcase Muñoz’s inventive approach and add an element of surprise to the exhibition.
Isabel Muñoz began her professional photography career in 1979 and has been honored with numerous prestigious awards throughout her career, including the Fundación del Arte (2012), UNICEF Spain Awareness Award (2010), Bartolomé Ros Award at PHotoEspaña (2009), Gold Medal of Fine Arts from the Spanish Ministry of Culture (2009), First Prize in Photography from the Community of Madrid (2006), World Press Photo Awards (2000 and 2004), and the Gold Medal at the Alexandria Biennale (1999), among many others.
Recognized as one of the top 12 contemporary photographers by the Prado Museum and the Friends of the Prado Foundation in 2018-2019, Muñoz recently became the first female artist accepted into the “Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts” in the field of photography. She has observed and documented the lifestyles, rituals, and traditions of cultures and communities from various geographies including Cuba, Burkina Faso, Mali, Egypt, Turkey, Cambodia, Brazil, Iran, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Cameroon, Iraq, Syria, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, and Bolivia. She has pursued diverse stories such as martial arts in China, traditional dances in Cambodia and Brazil, and ethnic minorities in Africa. Muñoz strives for her photography to serve a purpose and believes that each image should tell a story. She believes in the power of visual language and art’s ability to convey various aspects of life, including beauty. Muñoz finds great satisfaction in the belief that her photography can support people in different ways and holds this belief in high regard.
The exhibition “Isabel Muñoz: Yeni Bir Hikâye – Göbeklitepe ve Çevresinden Fotoğraflar,” with exhibition and catalog design by Onagöre, will be open for visitors at the 4th and 5th floor exhibition halls of Pera Museum until September 17, 2023.