by: Ayşe Günaysu

There came the sky blues, rosy pinks, poppy reds, sun whites, dreams and memories. There came drawers, family photos, old letters on papers turning yellow with time. This is because Varteni came to Istanbul. At Pera Art Gallery in Taksim, then later at Pera Fine Arts Exhibition Hall in Kadikoy, there she was, a slender, tall, elegant, shining woman with wide eyes searching and willing to understand, opening her inner self to us, bringing her love, her belief in the beauties of life, and showing us her wound to see and

I see her paintings passing one after other before my eyes. Illuminated, almost transparent, as if painted on glass, such that you think you can see through them, see what is beyond, deep into what they withhold from the viewer. Yes, there are shadowy figures, hardly discernable from the texture of shades and colors, just like memories that become part of one’s being.

Varteni’s exhibition is called“Palimpsest -History In Drawers”. Here is what she says she wanted to do with this exhibition: “…to become part of live experience of the moment. To connect the internal and
external worlds of day-to-day life! To scrape away the solitude and alienation of the human condition (in art) and give the observer/participant a totally lived life. Where palimpsest is rejuvenated! (A palimpsest is a manuscript that has been re-used by writing over the original writing, and sometimes more than once.
Frequently it's impossible to say which layer was first inscribed; and in any case any development and all the layers are transparent, translucent.) The very act of creating/painting cannot develop without destruction. The very notion of bringing new beauty into being implies an old ugliness has been swept away. Beauty defines itself by destroying the ill, the ugliness which is not itself.” She did what she wanted. Beauty in her paintings resists with all its might against the ill and the ugly.

I look at her painting named Pari Lyus (“Good morning” in Armenian): The sun is rising. But it’s more like a living being, spinning around, radiating sending intense beams of light to the viewer. There, do I see
a woman standing with her back turned to us, looking at the sun? Am I right? Are her hands tied at the back? What do all these tell us – the dark reds so close to black that even the bright sun is unable to
enlighten, those dark blues, intense dark yellows? Will the sun ever reach the woman to embrace her, cuddle her, soothe her?
These colors, these visions, moments of remembrance and these dream-like, almost unreal figures, almost invisible, merged in the texture of colors and patches of shadows and light seem to be the rejection of the ugliness, the evil, the destructive force inherent in humankind, by a woman whose personal history is full
of deportation and exile, massacres and plunder suffered by her grandparents.

Varteni Modtitchian is originally from Istanbul but her grantparents’ roots go back to Kayseri (Caesarea) in Central Anatolia and Bafra (Black Sea). She moved to Massachusetts at the age of 16. Then she was graduated from Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Central Florida. Her works were exhibited in various parts of the world including New York, Boston, Washington and Paris. And this year Varteni came to Istanbul at last, bringing her grandfather’s locked drawer with its metal key, which had always been at his disposition only, a drawer containing large envelopes carefully piled together. It’s a call to us to bring our own drawers to her and to others to share. She said: “Nevertheless to fuse and to feel the dichotomy between the physical and non physical I am going to choreograph an event
in which every observer will be invited to participate by bringing their letters new or old, written material- to leave something behind and reminiscent of the stacks of envelopes in the drawer-- a labyrinth
type of drawer where the individual can go in and leave behind its own trace by painting drawing or writing in private..(Hence we are only free in the privacy of our feelings and thoughts)… The history in
drawers will connect those- us- who are destined to meet regardless of time and space… It can transform and travel.”

Now the exhibition is over. Varteni is leaving with her letters, photographs and paintings. How many of us saw these? How many of us touched her, brought to her our own drawers, and showed our wounds like she did to us, to touch and to feel? Moreover, were we aware that she was with us? And Varteni will come again, pursuing her memories, reaching out to us to show how she translates into
colors her questions, assertions and challenges – some asking “why not?” some insisting “yes we can”, some sadly saying “if only we wanted”. She will ask us to touch them, to penetrate and wander about inside them to see and to understand. The remaining is up to us, to what we are and to what we aspire to be.