Linda Ganjian and Elif Uras
A functional ceramic-tile sculpture, 2010
Navelstone is a monument to the interconnected histories of Armenians and Turks in Ottoman-era ceramic art traditions. The navelstone (göbektaşı) is the central platform in the traditional Turkish bath (hamam), a heated surface where people gather to relax or to be scrubbed. The sculpture serves as a metaphor for the bitterly fraught past shared by both nations and is also a nod to recent attempts to establish diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey. The navelstone functions as a site of rebirth, realized through a direct confrontation with personal and public history––a figurative shedding of dead skin. Its tiles reinterpret the Ottoman traditions of Iznik and Kütahya by using their collective visual vocabulary of motifs as a framework for narrative elements. Uras presents a contemporary perspective on the role of Armenians in Turkish society and culture (both historical and current), while Ganjian details episodes of her family’s story in Ottoman and Republican Turkey. Both of them share a cultural legacy in the rich traditions of Iznik and Kütahya, which under Ottoman patronage and with the labor of Turkish and Armenian artisans, among others, flourished in the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries. Their collaborative intention is to bring tiles from these Ottoman centers together, thus underscoring a shared cultural legacy that is neglected under the weight of historical tragedies and animosity between two nations.