In the Studio with Melike Kara. Words by Sofia Hallström 

I'd like to start this interview by asking you about your painting practice. The paintings are densely layered with condensed colour palettes and usually made using oil sticks; how did you develop this style?

When I start painting, I usually access two to three colour palettes. To focus on the two to three colours helps me to create a frame of what happens on the canvas.

Melike Kara, studio image. Image courtesy the artist

You use motifs from tapestries, craft traditions and ritual objects of Kurdish culture. How do you approach creating composition in the paintings?

The starting point for these paintings is inspired by different Kurdish tapestry motifs from various regions and tribes. The ambiguity between abstraction and figuration is already at play in these carpets. From that point the painting weaves into the here and now and tells its own story. They appear to be two figures which are dissolving at the same time.

Melike Kara, 'Sandanaj' (2021), oil stick and acrylic on canvas, 200 x 220 cm. 'Nothing is Yours, Everything is You', Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, 2021. Image copyright and courtesy of the artist and Kölnischer Kunstverein


Do you have any rituals or processes that you follow in the studio?

I usually start my day in the studio early in the morning. First I water all the plants, make myself a coffee or tea and get inspired by everyday things – as well as react to/reflect on current events. And then I start to paint.

To end the day in the studio and to ground myself, I oil my calves as it helps to come back to a grounding, bodily reality.

Melike Kara, studio image. Image courtesy the artist

In your practice, you work with many different mediums broadly encompassing painting, sculpture, installation, film and text. What influences your choice in which mediums to use?

Every medium has another way of telling, if art is more than representation, if it is a form of communication, then directness of narrative is different in every medium. This is what guides me – depending on what I want to say, the choice of media follows.

Melike Kara, 'mother of mother of mother', installation view, Ludwig Forum, Aachen, 2021. Image copyright and courtesy of the artist and Ludwig Forum


You seem to incorporate a lot of personal narratives into your work. Can you tell us about some of the people or experiences that inform your practice?

My family, especially the older generation helped me to find a better communication to my Kurdish roots, but also travelling to the places where my family comes from or going to the religious pilgrim places gave me a very good possibility to connect. The rituals my grandmother taught me, which were so normal to her, opened up a different door – another dimension. I learned a lot from her, she was a door to my Kurdish heritage which drove me and my work to get a better idea of what it means to have Kurdish roots.


Melike Kara, 'HOW SHE SHAPES US', installation view, LC Queisser, Tbilissi, 2021. Image copyright and courtesy of the artist and LC Queisser

I wondered whether you could talk about what led you to begin building your personal archive, centred around your Kurdish-Alevi family histories and stories; and Kurdish culture and tradition more broadly. How does the archive figure within your studio practice?

When I started to dig deeper into my family history, I began collecting everything I could find. I was interested in what the bond is in a group of people as inhomogeneous as that of the Kurds. That is how building the archive started.

My personal history is connected to a specific subgroup of the Kurdish population, but I was also interested in the Kurdish community as a whole with all the different tribes. At the same time, I wanted to learn more about history and about writers, stories, poets, and singers.

They are from different regions and different networks, and they all come from different sources. There are personal family photos and pictures taken by family friends. There are photos I took myself and others taken by family members. I continue to expand the archive and am still taking photos and asking family members to do the same. Those images are accompanied by ones from other sources and regions, as well as found images etc. I was interested in collecting everything and finding the hidden beauty in them. The archive is something inherent and present in all my work, something that is alive and ever-changing. I am not afraid of these changes, it is an ongoing process and some part of me will always be searching for a better understanding of my Kurdish heritage.


When we spoke previously, you mentioned the importance of celebrating the beauty that lives amongst the heaviness and hardships of a culture. Is there something that you hope viewers think about or take away from your work?

I don’t think it’s my place to want to influence how viewers see my work, but I do wish to create awareness and sensitivity to a culture that one may not have had access to before.


When you are working towards an exhibition, how do you initially approach making the work?

Ahead of preparing an exhibition, I mostly start with writing a poem; it gives me quicker access to what I am going to do. But here, too, I draw a lot of inspiration from the space and the given architecture. The artistic process for me does not only take place in my studio, but also responding to places and going to their architecture physically inspires me. In general, I am looking for an extension of painting that connects with its surroundings or architecture. Painting and sculpture interact, question each other and create a direct communication with the same. An expanded view and a change of perspective seem interesting to me.

Melike Kara, 'Sofreh Normadic' (2021) Oil stick and acrylic on canvas, 200 x 220 cm. Nothing is Yours, Everything is You, Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, 2021. Image copyright and courtesy of the artist and Kölnischer Kunstverein


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Images courtesy the artist