The Richmond Art Gallery (RAG) is preparing to open its summer exhibition A Minaret for the General’s Wife by award winning Toronto-based Turkish-Canadian artist Erdem Tasdelen from April 22 to July 31, 2022.
The exhibition weaves together fact with fiction to tell the origin stories of an unusual minaret in Kèdainiai, Lithuania. The artist’s re-construction of how the structure came to be calls into question the way narratives take shape, and ultimately encourages a multiplicity of readings by the visitors.
Guest curated by Julia Paoli and Toleen Touq, and is organized and circulated by Mercer Union and the South Asian Visual Arts Centre in Toronto, where the exhibition was first displayed in 2021.
“A Minaret for the General’s Wife speaks to both the potential and the limits of storytelling,” says RAG director Shaun Dacey. “We’ve seen in media, pop culture, and social movements that objects and images can become incredibly powerful vessels for ideologies. Erdem Ta?delen reflects on this by sharing real and imagined moments in history that link migration, displacement, and appropriation. His interest lies in how meaning is made — and re-made — when objects are taken out of their original context. This feels especially poignant now, as we see nationalistic machines of myth-making at play in our everyday lives. This exhibition is a reminder that our own biases can influence and manipulate the way we read texts, see images, and perceive objects.”
A Minaret for the General’s Wife centres on a little-known architectural oddity a freestanding minaret in one of Lithuania’s oldest cities. Despite being familiar with the Ottoman style of this minaret, Tasdelen’s attention was struck by its location and the fact that it was not connected to a mosque. In doing further research Tasdelen came across two prominent narratives about the intention behind the minaret’s construction. The first, rooted in fact, is that the structure was built as a monument in celebration of Russia’s victory in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878, and that it featured marble elements taken from Turkey as war booty. The second, a myth popular among locals, is that the orphaned minaret is the last remaining vestige of a mosque Totleben built as a gift to his Turkish wife of Islamic faith (who, in fact, never existed according to historical records).
The exhibition features a trove of archival photographs, miscellaneous artifacts, the audio of a call to prayer sung in Turkish, and a video shot on-site at the city park where the structure is located.
“The work offers fragments of fact and fiction within the realm of performance and theatricality, with its potential unrealized,” says Ta?delen. “The exhibition gestures towards the provisional, the unfinished, the incomplete — so that the viewer can be involved in the meaning-making. A Minaret for the General’s Wife asks the audience to consider how the stories of the objects in their own lives are created.”
A Minaret for the General’s Wife runs April 22 to July 31th at Richmond Art Gallery and the exhibition launches with as artist talk to be held on Saturday, April 23 at 2pm. Register for the free event or learn more at richmondartgallery.org/artist-talk-tasdelen.