A new dimension
to international Culture

Nomadic Imagination

Turkish-born artist and sculptor Hasan Fuat Sari brings a new dimension to international culture: nomadic imagination. If that sounds a bit like the "magic realism" of writers like Gabriel Garcia Marques and Jorge Luis Borges, it's equally hard to define. What is certain is that Sari, who was born in 1953 in the southern Turkish town of Tarsus, home among others to Saint Paul, and who now lives in Turku, Finland, draws for his creative output on an unusual combination of craftsmanship, whimsy and cultural eclecticism.

As a child, he recalls, "I grew up with all kind of cultures, religions and languages, from Jews and Armenians to Kurds, Arabs and Turks. I am a product of this mixture and I learned respect for all these different cultures. What is important is not the language that you speak but the emotion that lies behind it. Sculpture is an international language, and through it I speak to the world."

From 15 to 29 November, the works of Hasan Fuat Sari will speak to visitors to the European Commission's Charlemagne Building at 147, Rue de la Loi in Brussels. An exhibition organised by Brussels-based TR PLUS – Centre for Turkey in Europe with the support of Turkey's Koç Group of companies (whose chairman, Mustafa V. Koç is Finland's honorary consul in Istanbul) and the European Commission's Directorate General for Enlargement will bring together a series of works transported from Finland in Sari's battered Ford Transit van.

How clear their message proves will depend in part on the receptivity of his audience, but a few keys may prove useful. Sari comes from a family of Turkmen nomadic origin with a strong shamanistic tradition. His mother was born in the town of Urfa, said to be the birthplace of Abraham and known for a pool filled with magic fish that cannot be eaten because anyone who does eat them purportedly dies. Fish and water are recurrent themes in Sari's work, along with eyes, linked to Turkish superstition about the evil eye, and wheels, which he regards as a symbol of civilisation. "Thanks to the wheel, civilisation developed. Moving around became easier. Everything is more fluid."

Sari personifies the fertility of cross-cultural exchange that is the key to today's Europe. After studying in The Hague and Istanbul, where he graduated from the State Academy of Fine Arts in 1978, he worked for a year in the sculpture section of Istanbul's Archaeology Museum. In 1980, he moved to Finland to participate in a restoration project in Turku, where he stayed. Turku is a city built on water. That was part of its appeal for Sari, who spent his childhood beside the Mediterranean.

Water is also a geo-political issue, as Sari hastens to remind an interviewer. "The world has a water problem, to which many of my works draw attention. Water is like love: it is fluid, and you can't live without it." In tune with his shamanistic leanings, Sari gave his daughter, now 10 years old, the name Onay Su, meaning "accepted water". Names have a life of their own in Hasan Fuat Sari's environment. After settling down in Turku, he got married in the Turkish town of Hasan… - not because of its name, he insists, but because of its reputation as a centre of learning.

Sari's artistic creations often take the form of witty visual puns, drawing on traditional symbols and allusions to his own experiences and the environment around him. He works in a range of materials including metal, wood and brick, as well as scrap and recycled objects. His nomadic imagination can sometimes give rise to a fog of hype. A few years ago, sculptures made of recycled bicycle parts won acclaim from a Finnish critic as "multidimensional symbols of movements in time and space that give voice to the metamorphoses of identity, to tensions between intimacy and universality, to visions of becoming and transcendence…." But beyond the hype Sari's work is fundamentally simple. "It's a synthesis," he says. "An articulation of everything I have experienced."

-N. Bray, journalist


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