Art Review: Sumru Tekin, “No End”
Layers of family history, cultural narrative and overlapped imagery are important elements in the conceptually complex solo exhibition “No End” by Sumru Tekin, currently showing at 215 College Gallery  in Burlington. The show’s contents are works on paper that essentially compose one installation. Each piece could stand alone, however, and, given the space separating the works, they seem like flashes of memory or a procession of transitory ghosts. Arabic texts and Tekin’s own writings also appear.
The ambiguous narrative that unfolds on a 9-foot-long horizontal strip of Xeroxes and photo transfers focuses on a woman seen from a distance and kneeling in a stark field. Ten iterations of the woman, absorbed in gardening or tending to a baby, are printed on the pages of a 19th-century Hadith — a book of Koran commentary and stories of the Prophet Mohammad in Arabic. Xeroxes of the figural image are also transferred onto Japanese Okawara paper. Its translucence is ideal for Tekin’s layered works.
Tekin, who was born in Turkey, employed family photos and inherited books in the creation of this show. She has posted pithy lines in proximity to several of the works, not as explanatory text but simply to add another dimension to the exhibit’s reflections of cultural and personal history. One of these reads: “I wanted to see the beginning the middle and the end.” A longer one says: “My earliest memory is one constructed by an audio recording. My mother and aunt are asking me to be careful not to step on the glass from a broken thermometer. My father is recording the conversation.” The handwritten notes are unassuming and subtle.
Pages of the Hadith were also used in an iconographic figural work. A black-and-white collaged image of a little girl was superimposed on the text. In other pieces, the line drawing of a little boy in the late Ottoman Empire reading a primer becomes a recurring theme. Tekin draws such repeated images as well as transferring or printing them. She’s keenly aware of the formal elements of visual art, and formalism is an essential aspect of her process.
A roughly 3-by-3-foot piece includes diagonal creases and the appropriated image of a large group of children, perhaps a class photograph. The paper is creased because it has been folded into a paper boat and then unfolded — like an artifact from an ancient childhood. A line drawing at lower left shows the boy with the reading primer again, but in this case he’s fallen in a puddle. A large building is also repeated in the overall image, serving as a counterweight to the cluster of small forms in the class photo. The paper-boat suggestion is distilled into a group of geometric shapes and shows up collaged onto facing pages of the Hadith.
A nearby work involves the blank, yellowed page of a photo album with a square of white paper affixed to it. Near the right edge of the white paper, a few sliced-off lines appear. The text “these voices trail echoes in their wake” is posted beside the stark, minimalist piece.
In an online artist’s statement, Tekin reveals: “Rather than yielding a conclusive narrative, the union of disparate fragments within the drawings, functioning as quotations, adrift and out of context, provides multiple entry points, beginning a conversation between the viewer, the drawing, and the artist.” “No End” offers a rich and multifaceted conversation that doesn’t rely solely on words.