Semiha Berksoy was a leading figure in the history of Turkey’s cultural scene. A descendant of an artistic family (her mother was a painter and her father a poet), she was a pioneering painter, actress and opera singer. Berksoy started her career as a performer in the early 1930s and played numerous leading roles in Turkish and international opera houses and theatres. She starred in Tosca (1941), Turkey’s first professional opera production, and In the Streets of Istanbul (1931), its first sound film. Berksoy studied at both the Music Academy of Berlin, graduating in 1939, and the Academy of Fine Arts, Istanbul (1929), where she developed a practice in painting. She also pursued her interests in performance and music at the Darülbedayi Drama School and Istanbul Music Conservatory. Her paintings have a distinctly free and sensual style that reflects her fluid movement across art disciplines. Berksoy continued her career as a painter and writer until she passed away in 2004.
In SB14, a selection of Berksoy’s paintings from the 1950s to 1970s explores a playful interrelation between life and performance and an existential take on time, framed by the limits of birth and death. Revealing the artist’s simple but spirited approach to the medium, the oil paintings include My Mother Playing Oud (1958) and My Mother the Painter Fatima Saime (1972), which present straightforward, uncomplicated representations of her mother, and Love Story (1968), a sinister self-portrait that conveys an ebullient and abject interiority. In another self-portrait, Chain Breaker (1968), Berksoy depicts herself surrounded by talisman, her shackled figure emerging and receding from a dark background, or according to the artist, between animal and human. In direct conversation with the self-portraits, a number of more sombre portraits of her mother watching over her introduce a spiritual dimension to this presentation of works.