Aliye Berger

19031974 | Istanbul, Turkey
Aliye Berger — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Portrait of Aliye Berger, Photo Ara Güler Doğuş Sanat ve Müzecilik A.Ş, Courtesy Ara Güler Archives and Research Center

Turkish painter and engraver.

Aliye Berger was born into a family of intellectuals and artists; the painter Fahrelnissa Zeid (1901-1991) was her sister and the author Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı her brother. Although as a child she frequently observed Fahrelnissa paint, A. Berger’s earlier life was dominated by music and literature, rather than visual arts. From an early age she took violin lessons from the Hungarian violin virtuoso Karl Berger, with whom she later began a turbulent romantic relationship that lasted 23 years, until his death in 1947.
Following his death, A. Berger went to live with her sister in London, who encouraged her to take up engraving. It was an art well suited to her depressed mood at the time with its dark colours and the required discipline. While in London, she attended the studio of the printmaker John Buckland Wright (1897-1954) for three years, where she learned different techniques of printmaking. In 1950 A. Berger returned to Istanbul with around 150 engravings, and a year later, opened her first solo exhibition at the French Consulate. She came into the limelight in 1954 when she won the first prize in the “Labour and Production” painting competition of Yapı Kredi Bank with her painting Güneşin Doğuşu [Sunrise]. The win shocked the Turkish male-dominated art and art education scene. Famous painters and art critics publicly scorned the painting for its deviation from the subject and its abstract style and the fact that A. Berger was not an academy-trained painter. With its non-figurative abstraction, dynamism and bold colours, it differed from the other competition pieces which displayed the then popular painting style: figurative, cubic and constructivist. Sunrise became her most well-known artwork, but apart from it, she also produced a number of paintings, charcoal and Indian ink drawings. These were mainly portraits, human figures, abstract and dreamy landscapes with an expressionist approach. However compared to her engravings, they remained experimental pieces.

A. Berger was a very productive engraver, joining more than 50 national and international exhibitions in 21 years. Her works are found in private collections, Istanbul and Ankara Painting and Sculpture museums and the Albertina in Vienna. She used intaglio printing technique and made tiny changes in every print, so that no one was the exact copy of the other. Along with paper, she printed on butchers’ paper, emery paper, muslin, cloth and lace. These enabled new background colours and textural possibilities. Her engravings were in semitones of black and white and less in colour, Workbench being an example. Like her paintings and drawings, the subjects for the engravings were portraits (especially self-portraits and of her husband), people from all walks of life and corners of Istanbul, placed with miniature-like perspectives, such as in Üsküdar. Her art depended heavily on her day-to-day observations, experiences and sensations, articulated in various manners: surrealist, naturalistic and expressionist. A. Berger’s place in art history is unique, as she did not adhere to a single style, but rather created with a characteristic passion that was fuelled by love, enthusiasm and the joy of living.

Verda Bingöl

A notice produced as part of the TEAM international academic network: Teaching, E-learning, Agency and Mentoring

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