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Threads of power run through woven art at Gibsons Public Art Gallery exhibit

Intersecting themes of freedom and authority are spliced into intricate paper tapestries in a new exhibition by Istanbul-born artist Damla Tamer in her first solo show on the Sunshine Coast.
Artist Damla Tamer reflects during a public reception at the Gibsons Public Art Gallery on November 17.

Intersecting themes of freedom and authority are spliced into intricate paper tapestries in a new exhibition by Istanbul-born artist Damla Tamer, her first solo show on the Sunshine Coast. 

The Vancouver-based artist met with gallery visitors on Nov. 17 during the launch of Knots And Syllables / Düğümler Ve Heceler (Textile And Paper) at the Gibsons Public Art Gallery.  

Tamer completed a Master’s of Fine Art degree at the University of British Columbia 10 years ago. “One thing led to another,” she said, “and now it’s been 13 years now of living here [in Canada]. I’ve started working and teaching in Vancouver as well, but I still have a strong connection to Turkey.” 

Tamer blends textile techniques, using recycled paper as a common medium. In her In Lieu series of works, she fuses ribbons, laundry rope and bright threads into a handmade paper substrate. The result is a combination of bas-relief and fibre art. Delicate strands double back on themselves, each junction denoting strength. 

“A lot of [my work] deals with the contemporary political history of Turkey,” Tamer said. “Many of the pieces have a kind of symbolism representing anger and frustration.” 

In 2021, Turkey withdrew from the Council of Europe’s so-called Istanbul Convention, a legal framework designed to prevent and combat domestic violence and brutality against women. The news affected Tamer deeply, since the convention’s original ratification was the result of long advocacy by grassroots women’s organizations across Turkey. 

“It was passed in 2011, and then 10 years later, Turkey withdrew from it overnight, simply with a government decree. And that was very heartbreaking for a lot of people,” she said. 

Her large-scale tapestries Divination Objects, when viewed at close range, reveal long sinews of printed words that undulate through perpendicular bands. Seen from a few steps back, the granular details resolve into complex patterns inviting subjective interpretation. The splayed paper edges are a reminder that a population’s reaction to restrictive edicts is a labour perpetually in progress. 

“There are a lot of things that can change with just a single page featuring a text,” said Tamer, reflecting on neoliberal authoritarianism in Turkey and elsewhere. “These works are very much about the relationship of language, life and law. Law can be a great thing. It can actually help us. But it can also be reversed. The generative and destructive forces of law and language are what interest me.” 

In Knots and Syllables (Pepper Mountain), Tamer used needle-knotted lace (called oya in Turkish) and dyed curtain fabric to depict a mountain aflame with red peppers, surging skyward from an inky base. The hot pepper motif is common in historical Turkish needlework. Newly-married women, prohibited from speaking in their husbands’ presence without permission, would weave the flowers into headscarves to show the heat of their anger. 

Like all of Tamer’s works, Pepper Mountain is a balance of delicacy and tenacity. The woven webwork takes on the obdurate mein of chain mail when seen from a distance. The filaments of the In Lieu series look like windblown chaff — until their crisscrossed shapes resolve into the threads of DNA chromosomes. Identity and independence are bound into every work. 

“I think artworks can hold a strange double position,” said Tamer. “They’re just pictures in a gallery, but they’re also documents in my mind. They have a double function. And I do hope that this artwork can be more than one thing.” 

Knots and Syllables / Düğümler ve Heceler remains on display at the Gibsons Public Art Gallery until Dec.4. Browse to for details.