FORMER FASHION DESIGNER & NEW ARTISTIC VOICE EMEL KURHAN.
Long before I had a chance to sit down and chat with the former fashion designer turned artist, I certainly noticed her stand-out presence. It’s not just for the obvious reasons, her cool clothes and her looks, but for her personal style—her manners and her ready laughter, her whimsy. Emel Kurhan always seemed to me like someone who knows how to make life enjoyable through the gift of an active imagination.
Making life better through creativity is a theme this site is devoted to exploring, and one of the things that’s refreshing is that Emel takes her work — but not herself — seriously. Which is really important, as well as healthy, when your work comes from such a personal place.
MY PERSONAL FAVORITE FROM EMEL’S PREVIOUS EXHIBITION TRAVELING WITHOUT MOVING.
Her previous exhibition, Traveling Without Moving used mixed media such as neon, embroidery and Emel’s intrinsic sense of whimsy, to explore the fantastic places she can visit simply by closing her eyes.
Emel has spent a lifetime using a fantastic imagination to transport herself to wondrous places, and a conversation with her does what you’d hope. It inspires you.
UNLIKE EMEL, HER SIDEKICK TAKES HERSELF VERY SERIOUSLY.
Your latest work is entitled Tales of a Fairy. Is this a continuation of your theme from the previous exhibition?
EK: No. This exhibition will again be mixed media, but it takes childhood photos of my mother and mixes them with embroidery and objects to restore her identity.
What do you mean?
EK: My mother’s older sister died when my mother was very young. My mother’s name was Peri—meaning Fairy. Her sister’s name was Mürüvvet. After Mürüvvet. died my mother was given her name .
What were your parents like?
EK: They were very different but shared a loneliness that brought them close. My mother came from quite a humble background, but was very striking, with blond hair and green eyes and far east Asian features. My father came from an aristocratic Egyptian background, he was very isolated by his family. Together they were crazy fun.
So they were happy together?
EK: Very. My father was a diplomat and my mother was an Egyptologist. Life was always one big party. They loved to travel, nothing child-friendly and never the same place twice. My mother used to come pick me up in at school in Paris with these bright African print dresses and amazing hats.
Then when my father died, life suddenly changed. I was 11 my mother and I returned to Ankara, which was cold and dark. My imagination freed me. I composed a fantasy newspaper journal about terrible bourgeois people I encountered being carted away by the police. Everything [in Ankara] was about networking and social-climbing … everything smelled of charcoal.
Do you ever think of writing about your family? Sounds like a great love story.
EK: Maybe. I have so much to say. First I want to do an illustrated children’s style book for adults. My chihuahua will be one of the lead characters. I still love Tintin and shows about crocodiles. I have so much to say Id on’t know where to start.
Do you still work in fashion?
EK: No. I was in business with my sister and working in fashion for about 10 years. It was the worst breakup of my life. I don’t want to worry about what sells or whether people will like things any more.
There are moments when I am not confident, where i’m afraid, but the moment I stop worrying about these things they seem to work out … it doesn’t have to make sense. Do it.
All the ideas I never shared only led to frustration, nothing else. If people don’t like it, it’s not my problem.