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Mythological Reflections


“Stories Of The Ribbons”

The first time I met Dear Mr Ertuğrul Ateş and his works was, I think, in the early 1980s at an exhibition he had organized in French Cultural Centre. Then, in 1990, I visited an exhibition of his during the time I was in Ankara and got the chance to catch the end tips of his ribbons that are familiar, take people up on cloud nine, are continuously on the move and flow across the canvas. Those colourful ribbons were being curled and bent again with their many vortexes, always in front of strong breath of Aeolus, the god of wind and adding a continuous motion into images! In 1992, I watched and listened to what the colourful ribbons were telling by whispering, which were indispensable and powerful simulacrum of his works and were fully imprinted into my mind thanks to his exhibition held at Alay Mansion in Gülhane, by visiting the exhibition several times within a long period of time. From then on, I had to watch the works by “Painter with Ribbons,” watch the exhibitions and the interviews he would organize even abroad at least through the media and didn’t have to miss out this pleasure, and I did so! Aeolus, who had hid somewhere within the frame, winked at me every time and the icon symbol that he flied let me catch one of the ribbon’s end tip while showing the painter’s savings and acquisitions occurred in his inner world! Watching the mysterious stories of these ribbons that sometimes touch the bodies of mythological characters and then take off and find meanings in another story has always been a distinct pleasure for me.

In “Dictionnaire Des Symboles, Mythes, Rêves, Coutumes, Gestes, Figures” by Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant, which I can shortly describe as “Encyclopaedia of Symbols, there is a description for –Ribbon- as follows: “The symbol of ribbon is in a certain association with the symbol of knot in terms of relation and meaning. Especially a tied and knotted ribbon is mostly used in the expression of positive concepts. A knot formed by a ribbon turns into a symbol of flower in the visual sense and it is the sign of preparation for further expansion and development. Ribbons that draw circles are considered as the symbols of immortality, participation in eternal life or true life experience –Curriculum Vitae-Course of Life-. At the same time, in the medieval tradition, a beloved princess’ giving a ribbon to her hero knight was considered as the most significant –natural symbol- of an honourable bond of love established between them. In the world of symbols, ribbon is also accepted as the gift of an undertaken and a boldly completed task. On the other hand, ribbons, which are distinctive and bundle an object up to distinguish it from other beings, are also interpreted as a clamp that prevents the void into which the being falls and the spiritual development of the being. And the principal symbol of the ribbon is interpreted as the success and the crowning of glory.

Recently, upon hearing that Ertuğrul Ateş, dear “Painter with Ribbons,” is preparing for a new exhibition of his to be organized in our city after a little while, I’ve been in a hurry to know the stages and stories that those sparkling ribbons have spent and collected all this time. Especially upon hearing that the main concept of the exhibition is “Mythological Reflections,” I’ve wanted to have a tea conversation with dear Ertuğrul Ateş and see the relations he has made between mythology and his works with a concern that they may make contributions of great importance to my lectures on Greek-Roman-Middle Eastern and Egyptian Mythologies and Rituals I have been giving at a university for many years.

He welcomed us with his smiling face and glittering hospitality as always. Then, upon starting our conversation, we talked about wish trees, which he sometimes encountered in the rural areas of the city he was born in and on branches of which cloths, coloured wools, ropes or ribbons were tied. And while our conversation was continuing heatedly, in a past time, the painter had piped up with this sentence in an interview made with him because of an exhibition: “If the starting point of art is seeking answers for all the big questions, the artist should start seeking them within herself/himself”. And now as if he is proving this sentence of his, he continued his speech by mentioning a piece of cloth his grandmother tied on a shoddy tree when he was a child in the district of Seyhan. One sentence led to another and Ateş uttered the following sentences while telling a memory of his relating to ribbons again:  “Dear My Teacher, ribbons have presumably remained as a simulacrum, which are tied on that tree and which have left a mark on me, I have been impressed by, and I have not been able to forget since then! Upon starting painting, the cloths or the ropes that symbolize wishes, hopes, and desires, which were tied on that old tree, have taken parts as a ribbon on my canvas! However, the time slipping by has impressed and changed them, too. They had a unique kind of “metamorphosis.” They have turned sometimes into an ivy that determines the mouth of a cave, sometimes a field spike or a bird’s wing that reach out to the sky, and sometimes a writing!

You see, my chat friend was an artist who has already found the answer he expected within himself! Later we went for a jaunt in the hall where the paintings were being exhibited. I found the main concept “Mythological Reflections,” which was highlighted at the exhibition, in front of me with the first painting I watched on the first step! And what is more, Eurynome, the mother goddess of “Pelasgian Creation Myths” known as one of the oldest creation myths, was standing just in front of me! The Mother Goddess Eurynome, who is waiting to make the first movement of Creation and dance on the water by creating vortexes was the first creator who would be called as “Mother Earth-Gaia” in Theogonia thereafter! Ofion (Snake-North Wind Orion), the being that entwines around Eurynome’s body and turns into a male snake as it entwines, was the one to have an intercourse with the goddess and the flying ribbons had taken on the task of this cold snake! At the end of impregnation that occurs while dancing on the waters, Eurynome becomes pregnant! Eurynome is to lay her cosmic egg soon! In this divine ritual occurred, it was Eurynome’s business to distinguish good from bad and regular from irregular and it was the mother goddess’ task to hunt the one produced corruptly and put into the producer vortex occurring under her feet, and do this incessantly! She became a cleansing in sunflowermaids, creative and destructive hunter from then on, visit

The ribbons took off in a hurry and also trailed us immediately towards the good news this divine pregnant would give! We were standing in front of a new painting and later the ribbons, which show what goings-on were, flowed into the painting. Here in this visual was Eurynome who extends her arms to the sky to reach the cosmic egg she laid as if she is indicating that she holds the said good news. In Pelasgian Creation Myths, it is told that the cosmic egg, which hides all the beings in the universe, was left on the sea by the mother goddess. Then the mother goddess shall incubate on her egg, the cosmic egg shall crack within 7 days and the birth shall start.

Suddenly, Aeolus’ breath, which flies the ribbons, turned into a breeze that was much hotter and that carried much more ancient traces! The ribbons that I hold their end tips left me into the middle of a very, very ancient civilization, onto Mesopotamian plains! Inanna was standing in front of me! Inanna, the mother goddess of Sumerian and Mesopotamian Mythologies, then turning into Aphrodite in Classical Greek Mythology and West Anatolian Mythologies! Inanna was the oldest goddess of love who embraced with Hittite by reaching until inner sides of Sumer, Babylon, Anatolia in more North and Kızılırmak basin. This beautiful divine is also considered as the representative of fertility and beauty as well as love and passion and is a mother goddess who prepares growth of grain and feeds people! This passionate woman would pay so much attention for her clothing and appearance that she would dress up, wear her most glittery clothes, come to earth and do everything in the book in order to seduce the man she loved, Gilgamesh! This time, the ribbons were adorning the goddess’ shoulder like a half cap, with a harmonious array that covers one of her breasts, however, she was displaying the frivolous, greedy and ambitious sides in her character without hiding among her flipping hair! Her loves were woven with instant gratifications and passions. In the painting, shades of her finished loves thrown into dark darkness and personalities of them lost and forgotten were as if they were appearing through Inanna’s dark black hair! Gilgamesh had already turned a deaf ear to the goddess’ seductions as he knew well that she would quickly get bored of her darlings! Otherwise, he would also disappear off the face of the earth like the others!

Themes telling the world of the dead, underworld and Hell are often discussed in Egyptian and Mesopotamian mythologies as well as Greek and Western Anatolia mythologies. Death, afterlife images and symbols add another affluence to mythologies. In paintings named “Silent Ship” and “Trial,” the ribbons undergo a different change and coincide with undersized and black reeds encountered on the shores of divine rivers of the underworld, Acheron and Styx. Now they will introduce the well-known, contrary, furious and divine ferryman of those rivers to us: Here we watch Charon. Groans and regret tears shed in vain are totally useless here! There is no mercy here! It feels like we are watching a passage from the part “Inferno-Hell” in “Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri! A sky in mild redness, but generally in grey and black, and Charon, asking for silver coins from those who are about to get on his ferry! In ancient times, those who died and were buried without a ceremony (those who were deprived of Obolos-Silver Coin-, placed in the eye sockets and palms) couldn’t get on Charon’s ferry and would distraughtly be dragged in front of a crazy wind! Here, there is a space in grey instead of the sky and are thorny bushes. Fortunately, Aeolus took us in front of a set of paintings, where another dimension dominates, by blowing and flying the ribbons at the end tip of a slight breeze without imitating Hell’s wind!

Classic Greek Mythology introduces Olympus cult to us and mentions Zeus (Jupiter), the biggest god of this cult, especially and at length. Zeus is actually a very, very womanizer chief god! He wants to appropriate whatever is beautiful and achieves his purpose at the end. Zeus also has a reputation for his loves. Actually he goes after only one purpose: To produce and recreate various original myths! He also has a wife who is charming, beautiful and considered as the queen of all gods and goddesses: Hera (Juno). She is the protective goddess of marriage and “The Sacred Fire of Smoking Cooker-Hearth and Home.” She is also the symbol of youth fever and a divine who knows how to remain fresh and alive and teaches this to the mortals. Hera immediately understands every licentiousness her husband makes and horribly gets angry and pick a quarrel! The great Zeus sometimes refrains from her fury and jealousy attacks! Hera mostly takes a bath in the river of “Xanthos” in order to seduce and bewitch Zeus, who gets away from her bed, to herself again. According to popular belief, this river gives back the virginity lost and its waters make all bodies alive and fresh! There Hera stands in front of me and the goddess who takes a step to come out of the refreshing waters of Xanthos! This time, the red ribbons have gently grasped Hera whose body is still wet and made a gentle vortex by wandering around her waist as if they are holding the towel that covers the goddess’ divine body almost in half; they are melodiously being curled downwards just like the tasselled belt of a bathrobe! On the left, the symbol of icon, which she always carries around and exists in all the visuals of the goddess, and the peacock are respectfully greeting the virgin who is going ashore! As the divine waters in Hera’s long hair flow downwards through her shoulders, they stick on her unique and divine back and quietly soak into the soil! This ritual bath shall be repeated every spring. Thus the nature shall wake up as fresh as it was reborn every spring and reveal all its affluence.

It seemed like Aeolus slightly blew as though he said “Leave the goddess alone!” and the ribbon strips perched in front of another painting very close to the surrounding and seethed with the story within it. When I saw the scene, firstly, inevitably, I looked around nervously on the sly, thinking “I wonder is Hera watching?”! While Hera was still occupied with drying herself, I was in front of great Zeus’ another beloved, the delicate Leda! The ribbons got thinner and charted out a way that interconnected a swan and a young girl after taking on the colour of love. Leda, the princess who was very, very beautiful, and full of love and youth within her eyes, was just standing there and leaning towards a misty lake! She would obviously take a bath and relax! While the great Zeus was recruiting the clouds as always and on the other hand observing what was going on above ground in Olympus, suddenly this fabulous beauty, who was taking a bath in misty water, would catch his eyes and he would somehow possess this beauty for what it is worth and despite Hera’s wrath! He has already not been late for that! The chief god, who reaches his desires by disguising sometimes as a bull and sometimes as a swan, satyr or gold drop and creating changes in pursuit of his beloveds, this time disguises as an attractive swan and perches on the misty waters. The young girl is deceived by the pure and admirable grace of the swan and lets it nestle up to her. Just at that moment, divine intercourse occurs and poor Leda gets pregnant. She has two big eggs in her stomach. She is in shame, secretly takes refuge in a forest and catches out the eggs there. There are twin boys in one of the eggs and twin girls in the other one. One of the girls is Helen, the deadly beauty. This girl is Helen, who would be abducted to Troy by Paris after many years and so cause the famous Trojan War!

Just as I was thinking that “Zeus’ loves caused many demolitions as well!”, one of those ribbons having every form took a form like “the finger of the creator in Sistine Chapel” and was pointing a painting at some distance! And then it took me to the front of the painting by whispering in my ear, “Do you see Persephone? She is the immortal bride and the divine wife of Hades, God of the Underworld!” and moved along Demeter’s dear daughter’s body folds by suddenly integrating with a painting in a while and creating red vortexes. Yes, Demeter (Ceres), her daughter Kore’s unfairly abduction by Hades (Pluton) caused a very deep grief for her dear mother Demeter! Demeter was the eldest sister of Zeus and Hera and had a very respectable position among the gods and the goddesses in Olympus. She taught people many secrets, how to cultivate the land, how to grow grains and how to make bread. This goddess was a chief one at the same time and she was an immortal who taught people how to stay satiated. People used to call her “The goddess who banish the hunger.” Her daughter, whom she loved so much, was her only asset and used to teach her many secrets. One day, while Kore was collecting flowers in the countryside, the ground was cleaved, a chariot drawn by pitch-black horses came out and the strong arms abducted Kore to the underground! Nobody saw what had happened to Kore. Only “Cascade,” a small nymph saw the goings-on. However, divine powers, with the command of Hades (god of Hell and underground death land), turned that small nymph into waterfall so that no one could understand things that she said and none of the secrets could appear. Demeter searched her daughter a lot and shed too many tears after her. She set her divine tasks aside. Trees were not blooming and crops were not growing in fields anymore. People were dying of hunger one by one! Zeus clamped down on this and decided that Kore, whose name was changed to Persephone from then on, would spend half of the year with her mother and the remaining six months with her husband Hades! In this manner, the arrival of spring symbolizes the bride’s coming to the earth and reuniting with her mother Demeter. Everywhere remains in riot of colours, trees get dressed and plants sprout as if they are celebrating this reuniting. Whereas, when autumn arrives, the daughter’s leaving approaches! Sadness covers everywhere, and fallow time begins after gleaning! The eternal bride Persephone is one of the most sacred brides with her earth-coloured clothing and always renewed veil anymore! By greeting “Seasonal Cycles” that some of us call Hıdırellez, some accept as the day on which fire of Nowruz is lighted and the roots of which go back to Sumer, I went out of the room in which paintings were existing! There were many more visuals to see and many more stories to listen but I had made a little surprise for myself and decided to see them at the exhibition to be organized later.

Dear Ertuğrul Ateş the “Painter with ribbons!” I will give the last word to you and express a saying of yours that you told during an old interview of yours, I once noted and kept: You told, “There is a saying in our neighbourhood; Allah gives a hand to one who sets up a home and the one who hits the road!” You were so right! I hope “Apollo’s Fairies of Inspiration – The Muses” give thousands of inspiration and health to you and never leave you alone for your works.

Stay in health and well-being.

Mehmet Süha Sarıoğlu
T.R. Istanbul Kültür University, Academician

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