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Ayfer Karamani, one of the important representatives of contemporary Turkish ceramics, who we lost in February, transferred her studio to her daughter Arzu Karamani Pekin in 2015. “I am a  studio child. I opened my eyes in a ceramics studio and grew up at my mother’s feet” said Pekin, describing her mother and her master in the article she wrote for our magazine.


“I don't use clay that anyone else has kneaded. I must knead it myself, it must be in my hand: the heat I give to it must integrate with the happiness it gives me. Only then should I start on the form or panel I intend to make.”

I think it is an expression that very well describes her self-control, her seriousness, her emotionality, her integration with the material, and the way her work fills her life. This sentence lingers in my ears and has a place in my mind... Indeed, I have never understood when my mother finishes kneading the clay and starts shaping that pile. The only thing I have understood throughout my life is that her personality structure, which cannot be questioned, always causes her to "knead" her art with her instincts, and her free spirit, which does not fit into the mold, exhausts herself only to put her say in the mud. She just kept her words in the mud, that's all!

Ayfer in Academy

Ayfer Konrapa is so impatient that she opens even the 25-kilo packs of clay that come to the studio from Arslan Tugla, not by cutting the strings, but by cutting them open with scissors. Of course, this excited personality of Ayfer Konrapa has surrounded her since her childhood. So much so that she dreams, "I wish there was a school where I could learn my job without going to high school when I finish secondary school." Emin Barin comes to the rescue. Calligrapher Emin Barin, who was one of the teachers at the Istanbul Fine Arts Academy at that time, is a distant relative of my mother and visits their house in Laleli very often. Mr. Barin gave lessons for about a week to my mother, who had already went to the Academy and learned all the details about the entrance exams. And the Academy, which also accepted secondary school graduates at the time, became the new school of history teacher Zekai Konrapa's youngest child.

She entered the Academy in 1950, when she was 17 years old, and completed her education in the Fabric Patterns department, as it was then known, and then in the Ceramics department. The ceramics department was a bit of a disappointment for her at the beginning of her student years. While she thought that sshe could finally add the third dimension to what he had learned with clay, she became a student in a workshop that had no materials. But Nejat Eczacibasi's support solves her and other students' problems. My mother has been telling this throughout her life without getting tired:

“We were preparing the subjects given to us by our teachers, Ismail HakkiOygar and Vedat Ar, as paintings. We only knew that ceramic paints were a few bags of powdered stuff. We learned from our teacher that these were called glazes and that they would turn into their original color when fired, but since we did not have a kiln, we listened to them as if we were listening to a fairy tale and forgot about them.

This situation of the ceramics workshop at the Academy was heard by Nejat Eczacibasi. He came, talked to us, said that we could work in the newly established artistic department of the factory and that we could learn anything we wanted from the masters in each department. We started going to Kartal Yunus Ceramic Factory, especially our sculpture teacher Zuhtu Müridoglu, ceramics department students and of course our own teacher. My goodness, what an excitement that was!.. The desire to see how the piece you painted a week ago turned out, at the end of the endless road that went by on the black train, erased all the difficulties. I, who never did any homework properly during my secondary school years, was working like crazy and traveling to Kartal three days a week. At the end of the year, we held a ceramics exhibition at the Academy, together with teachers and students, with the support of Nejat Eczacibasi.

This going and coming back continued until Sabit established our own workshop after we got married.”

Exhibitions and “life itself” studio

Ayfer Konrapa married Sabit Karamani after graduating from the Academy in 1955. My father, a very talented person who can be described as a Renaissance man or a hezarfen, soon established a fully-fledged ceramics workshop in their home in Moda. He makes a kiln, prepares the colors "hidden in the rocks and forests" as glazes that his wife could only dream of once, and puts them in front of her. In my mother's words, those "crunchy matte textured" browns, reds, greys, and turquoises have become the signature of the Karamani workshop over the years. Eventually, my father also succumbed to the attraction of clay, and in addition to being interested in the technical aspects of the work, he began to work with his own approach, in a completely different way from my mother's style. The two of them work hard together, open many exhibitions, and create ceramic walls for dozens of different buildings, from bank branches to hotels, from factories to hospitals, in different provinces of Turkey.

My mother and father, as two completely compatible characters, devoted their years to ceramics and produced and produced in the same workshop without the slightest conflict. Since they moved to the European side in the early 1960s, they moved their workshops to Istanbul after Moda, and over the years, workshops were opened in several different districts. Each moving is a different adventure. Finally, in 1979, after their friend photographer Ersin Alok said, "Sabit Brother, you were looking for a workshop, the place on the corner of the street from my studio is empty, take a look..." They rented their last place in Tunel, below Postacilar Yokusu. Thus, Kucuk Postacilar Yokusu adds Karamanis to the list of artists.

Following the 33rd Anniversary Exhibition that they opened together at Canakkale Seramik's art gallery in Levent, the article written by their colleague Atilla Galatali for Sanat Cevresi magazine is one of the best summaries of their efforts:

In 1957 or 1958, I came across a ceramic exhibition for the first time while wandering around two galleries and art exhibitions in Beyoglu, the pride of small America with a population of 25 million.

These exhibitions of Ayfer and Sabit Karamani were indeed interesting in the poor conditions at a time when bead and mosaic tables and even painterly objects were made.

The Karamani couple are not among the 60s generation that developed their artistic relationships in Eczacibasi and Taylan Seramik factories. But in addition to the privilege of having a private workshop at that time, they are also remembered in this generation, like Fureya Koral. There is first mortar put by Fureya Koral and the couple Karamani  on the basis of the visual language dimension that has been reached today, from that period when ceramic paints were upraised in ten-gram nylon bags and it was said that "this is called glaze”.

In fact, we were all in a boat, rowing and paddling in a barren environment. There was neither sea nor lake below us. There wasn't even a drop of water. But we were still pulling on the oars with all our strength, and we were staggering with the kicks we had been receiving from a long time ago. It wasn't bad either. Both we and the people thought there was a sea beneath us. We were only saddened by the fact that some of the impatient people who rushed to abandon the boat just because land was in sight ended up crashing headlong into that barren land.

Here, the Karamani couple have survived until today without any trouble and have preserved their place among the handful of artists who have always kept the art of ceramics on the agenda despite all the unfavorable conditions and have patiently resisted.

Despite a deep-rooted tradition, the art of both reflects all the local and universal features of the dialectic that begins anew after a contemporary change in a very barren land. Undoubtedly, Ayfer Karamani was able to adapt much better to the changing times and conditions, and her aesthetic quest and enthusiasm, which started with original pottery, has now concentrated on the problem of visual language.

Even though the entwined groups of people forming a single body have three-dimensional sculptural qualities, they come to life within the "glaze-clay-firing" triangle and transform both the Karamanis' love for ceramics and their love for humanity into language.

The infinity, the never-ending search and dissatisfaction, the drama in every love appear before us as artistic quality. Undoubtedly, with this universal language and aesthetics, they seek their cultural place in elite places that have gone through a certain urbanization process but still remain poor.

In general, as a critical contribution, I would like to emphasize that the contradictions between surface works in ceramic art and works in space have not yet been fully overcome in terms of form-content and language, as well as aesthetically. Undoubtedly, the main reason for this is that ceramic artists, like other visual artists, have not received a consistent critical contribution, as well as the fact that the artists are not quite ready for such a contribution.

Finally, I would write an article about the Karamanis, the owners of the first ceramic exhibition I saw, it never even crossed my mind at the time. I am happy. I join this 33-year-old cultural production enthusiasm and salute them with respect.

Actually, we are still in that boat.

Grab the oars and kick the boat, as long as people think we are at sea.


This article, which I can call "a small history of the Karamanis" even today, is also concerned with expressing the needs of ceramic art at that time.

This exhibition, which they opened in 1991, was my father's last exhibition. He, the life partner of Ayfer Karamani passed away in 1993… From now on, Karamani Ceramics Studio continues to fill every corner of her life with both exhibitions and the countless students she trained in this workshop. She only goes to Bodrum to swim and relax in the summer months. Apart from these three or four months, her life is a workshop. As she puts it, "real life" is within the walls of his workshop.

She was invited to and participated in many group exhibitions in the 1990s. She also opens many personal exhibitions both abroad and in Turkey. But two exhibitions are of particular importance to her: One of them is the retrospective exhibition opened at Is Bankasi Kibele Art Gallery in 2007; this exhibition is a summary of her 50-year work, covering the years 1957-2007. Its design was undertaken by Ersu Pekin. The other is the "Ceramic Sculptures" exhibition, which was established in the garden of the Istanbul Archaeological Museums in 2010. This exhibition is also designed by Ersu Pekin, and the idea that my mother has been dreaming of for many years, even in her dreams, comes true: to see her own sculptures among the ancient sculptures... A month was planned for the exhibition, but upon the request of the museum management, Ayfer Karamani's ceramic sculptures is exhibited in the garden of the museum, in this ancient world for three months.

Working style, Works

It is impossible for me to forget what my mother said after her solo exhibitions: "I feel completely empty." Every time she said this, she felt sad as if  herself would never be filled again. However, her hand never stopped. When the time came, she started new works, made sketches, and then one day, she split the clay packs in half, piled them in front of her and started kneading them.

Although the general concept of her exhibitions has always made one say "this is an Ayfer Karamani exhibition", when examined closely, it is seen that each of them has different contents. Ayfer Karamani, who worked with abstract forms and panels in harmony with natural colors, especially in the 1970s, remained under the influence of nature's forms by staying within the same color scale in the following years. Her abstractions increasingly reflect the influence of mountains and rocks; this way of working provides complete integration with her own special glazes. In the same years, human figures began to be mixed into these nature abstractions. People depicted in mostly monochrome works, dominated by brown, gray and turquoise tones, are generally semi-abstract forms that express their pain. This style continues into the 1980s. But when we look at her works in the 1990s, we see that the expressions of these human figures gradually soften and even turn into lovers. Desperation and pain have been replaced by the love of two people for each other:

Suffering people and rocks... Lands formed in brown, gray and turquoise tones and semi-abstract, painful human faces appearing within them... The 80s passed with these. Then this pain gave way to affection and love. The figures began to lose their abstractness, but the colors continued to maintain their natural tones and simplicity. Now I couldn't get enough of working with people in love, both on panels and in sculptures. I had so much to tell…

Maybe my love for clay led me to reflect my love for humanity. Rocks are my favorite formations in nature. Their inaccessible giant forms are very impressive and full of details that human hands cannot recreate. That's why I studied only rocks for a long time. However, in the end, I chose to extract the love of two people for each other from the rocks.

Ayfer Karamani’s form of abstraction becomes increasingly simpler over the years, but there is not much change in the colors. Again, in the 90s, she began to transfer the impressions she gained from the architectural elements and friezes in ancient temples to her ceramics. By combining groups of people with these elements, she creates panels and places different human stories within the frames. She generally prefers to use a single color in these works, but matte reds and matte blacks are added to the existing color scale:

I started to place my usual figures in the moldings and frames I created, inspired by the decorative elements in ancient temples, with my own understanding of abstraction, of course. Sometimes I worked on dance figures on the friezes between the moldings, and sometimes human figures and groups of people that I have never been able to give up for years...

From time to time, I made large panels in which a single figure- which could be sometimes a woman’s face, sometimes a chield’s face- was repeated with very small movement changes between two thin moldings. The frieze theme was a concept I prepared especially for the 33rd anniversary exhibition. It continued afterwards.

Ayfer Karamani focuses on sculptural works, especially in recent years. The size of her sculptures gradually increases; she dominates huge piles of clay and creates single female statues that reach almost her height, which can be described as a reflection of being able to survive alone. Women have broken away from the abstractions of nature and come out, saying "we are here now". With this new style of work, the simplification of the concept of abstraction reaches a higher level. These are the statues that appear in the Istanbul Archaeological Museums, next to their counterparts from ancient times to the present day…

Master Ayfer and her apprentice

For nearly 40 years, my mother explained her profession to those who wanted to learn ceramics, in her last workshop, on Postacilar Street... Those who entered the door of the workshop with amateur enthusiasm and worked for years; those who say "I can't do it at all" and own a workshop; those who said, "I don't have much interest in art, but..." and after a while, despite their advanced age, took the Academy exams and built new lives for themselves; many of them, who started as a hobby and are now counted among our successful ceramicists, received Ayfer Hoca's training. The environment she created with her own style, understanding of art, approach to ceramics and the way she conveyed this created a unique atelier. She handed over this breath of her life, the knowledge she had acquired throughout her life, and the key to her mastery and skill to me, along with the key to the workshop, in 2015. The memoir my mother keeps in the workshop begins with the following sentence: "Come on, after me!..." I did not take this call for many years, neither during my education in archeology and history of architecture, nor in the professional writing life I chose... She did not mention my name consciously either. However, I had to read between the lines. When I realized in 2015 that I was the "after her", it didn't take long for me to get down to business, put forward what I knew, and try to fill in my shortcomings with my master.

I am a workshop child. I opened my eyes in the ceramics workshop, I grew up at my mother's feet, my ears and eyes were filled in the workshop. I chose my professions myself, but I did not realize that I was trained as an apprentice. My mother gave me a second life, by putting her "real life", her workshop, into my hands…

I read to her everything I've ever written. This is the first article that I couldn't share with her…


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