“Isabel Muñoz: A New Story - Photographs From and Around Göbeklitepe”

June 14 2023

Pera Museum is hosting the exhibition A New Story by Isabel Muñoz, an artist who explores the nature, aesthetics and lifestyles of different cultures and reflects them through her photographs, focusing on Göbeklitepe, one of Turkey’s most important archaeological sites, and the Stone Hills in the region. Named as one of the 12 best living contemporary photographers by the Prado Museum and featured in major exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale and the New York International Center of Photography, the Spanish artist’s exhibition Isabel Muñoz: A New Story - Photographs From and Around Göbeklitepe will meet art enthusiasts at Pera Museum from June 15 to September 17.

For the first time in Istanbul, The Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation Pera Museumshowcases works by renowned photographer Isabel Muñoz, who shot the archaeological sites in and around Göbeklitepe, one of the Stone Hills which dates back approximately 12,000 years. Isabel Muñoz: A New Story - Photographs from and around Göbeklitepeoffers an opportunity to explore Göbeklitepe, which is thought to be the oldest cult site in the world and has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2018, as well as Karahantepe and Sayburç from Muñoz's impressive perspective. Curated by François Cheval, the director of the Mougins Center of Photography, who has carried out numerous international projects in the field of photography, the exhibition will be on display at Pera Museum from June 15 to September 17, 2023.

The artist bowing before the grandeur of Göbeklitepe

Isabel Muñoz, known for her monochromatic portraits depicting people and cultures from different geographies, first met art enthusiasts in Turkey in 1992 with an exhibition in Istanbul. The artist, who often visits Turkey and has worked on on subjects such as whirling dervishes, olive oil workers, oil wrestling and Sulukule Roma Community; this time -, pursues questions related to mystery, origins, and infinity in and around Göbeklitepe, which she is very impressed by. 

Noting that it was the first time she had the opportunity to work with archaeologists from Turkey, Muñoz says: “As a photographer, I have a natural curiosity and a desire to explore new things, and even before I had a camera, I was seeking to understand how people in the past lived and felt. In Spain, we have a rich tradition of Paleolithic art, but in Göbeklitepe, I found a spiritual element that spoke to me.”

In the photographs featured in the exhibition set in one of the most mystical areas in the world, Muñoz “does not merely settle for recording the unknown, the delusional images that oscillate between mystery and artwork, the staggering ruins and monumental megaliths, she simply bows before these majestic scenes.” as curator François Cheval puts it. 

François Cheval further mentions that; “The entire body of Isabel Muñoz’s work is based on totems.” and adds: “The visual images she collects endlessly gather the signs that tell us our history. She compiles not a history of events but a history of ancient, mythical, and legendary times. A ‘new history’ starts over each time. Her photographs identify the belonging of the storyteller to that long line of ancestral lineage. In the face of these images, we witness a narrative that is not merely an aesthetic event but one that is constantly renewed by her passion and proximity to the guardians of the otherworld. Isabel Muñoz’s photographs are an invitation to celebrate, a collective celebration that connects us to our distant ancestors.”

Wandering the limits of transcendence 

Cheval states that Muñoz invites the viewer to the limits of transcendence with the photographs she took in Göbeklitepe, and continues: “The photograph has become more than just an image that replaces reality; it takes us to the limits of transcendence. It leads us to that moment that has always been pursued but rarely captured, the moment of unity with the Universe. There is no difference between these hunter-gatherers building the pillars and Isabel Muñoz sculpting the light. Each one, in its unique way, blossoms the hopes and desires of a site. Göbeklitepe is the matter and the mother of matter in the world. The task of photography is to enable it to manifest itself in all its brilliance. The time of human history, conflicts and debates, and the harmonious meeting of the living and the dead, protected by supernatural powers, come face to face.”

“Göbeklitepe and Karahantepe as living entities”

Isabel Muñoz, who strives to document the unique forms of life around the world and to record cultural heritage to pass it on to the future, says that the archaeological work she did for this exhibition focusing on Göbeklitepe and its surroundings was a new experience for her. 

Passionate about archaeology and architecture, the artist describes this experience in one of her interviews: “Yes, this time there were no living humans in the photographs, but that was not my focus. I have a passion for archaeology and architecture and have previously done work in these areas. When I visited Türkiye, I was struck by the beauty of your cemeteries, particularly the Ottoman cemeteries, which are incredibly poetic. Although the physical figures are not present, the human element is still there. When I see the beautiful Ottoman stones and read the poems on them, I can imagine physically the women they represent. Similarly, when I photographed Göbeklitepe, I tried to immerse myself in the ancient culture and understand it in my own way. I was inspired by the knowledge of stars that they possessed and made use of their understanding of light to create my images. When I photographed Göbeklitepe and Karahantepe, I saw them as living entities. The anthropomorphic animal figures with human figures underneath added to this sense of life. To me, the stones themselves felt alive.” 

Ancient methods and new techniques are together

Isabel Muñoz: A New Story - Photographs From and Around Göbeklitepe offers the opportunity to explore this mysterious geography of human history from Muñoz's unique perspective, while also containing surprises regarding new methods and printing techniques employed by the famous photographer. Among these innovative works are photographs in which the artist utilizes the “Tepetype” technique for the first time, inspired by the methods used in ancient times, and an extraordinary self-portrait in which she reflects the electrical waves in her brain through EEG to the head figure in Karahantepe.

44 years in pursuit of the story behind the photograph

Isabel Muñoz, who began her professional photography career in 1979, has received numerous significant awards, including Fundación del Arte (2012), UNICEF Spain, Awareness Raising Award (2010), Bartolomé Ros Award, PHotoEspaña (2009), Spanish Ministry of Culture, Spanish Fine Arts Gold Medal (2009), Comunidad de Madrid, First Prize in Photography (2006), World Press Photo Award (2000 and 2004), Alexandria Biennial Gold Medal (1999).

Named as one of the 12 best living contemporary photographers in 2018-2019 by the Prado Museum and the Friends of the Prado Museum Foundation, Muñoz was recently awarded the title of "the first female artist to be admitted to the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in photography". 

The artist, who observes the lifestyles, rituals and traditions of cultures and communities from different geographies, including Cuba, Burkina Faso, Mali, Egypt, Turkey, Cambodia, Brazil, Iran, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Cameroon, Iraq, Syria, Mexico, Papua New Guinea and Bolivia while pursuing different stories such as martial arts in China, traditional dances in Cambodia and Brazil, and ethnic minorities in Africa, says, “I strive for my photography to serve a purpose and tell a story with every image. I believe in the power of the visual medium and that art can communicate many things, including life and beauty. It brings me great satisfaction to think that my photography can be a support for people in different ways, and I hold this belief dear.”

With exhibition and catalogue design by Onagöre, Isabel Muñoz: A New Story - Photographs From and Around Göbeklitepe will be open to visitors at Pera Museum’s 4th and 5th exhibition floors until September 17, 2023.

Pera Museum can be visited from 10:00 to 19:00 Tuesday to Saturday, and from 12.00 to 18.00 on Sundays. Pera Museum is free of charge during “Long Friday” every Friday from 18:00 to 22:00 and for students every Wednesday as part of “Young Wednesday”.