Ilknur Demirkoparan headshot against hot pink background

Ilknur Demirkoparan, aka ironBreaker, aka the barbarian, is a Turkish-born American artist whose interdisciplinary practice spans painting, sculpture, installation, performance, and digital media. Her practice explores the intersections between political power and the narration of history by tracing her own identity in time and space. While her early work evokes the bizarre and often baffling narratives of identity and otherness, with her current work, she explores the tension between erasure and endurance through the abstract language of kilims which she translates into paintings.

Demirkoparan moved to the United States with her family at the age of 11, from a country that was wedged between the slowly eroding Eastern Bloc and a rapidly emerging “Middle East.” Upon completing graduate school, she sold all of her belongings and immigrated back to her native country of Turkiye.  She likens this time to visiting a dying grandmother– one final goodbye, and the last chance to know her before her death. After 5 years of witnessing the demolishing of her country, she once again condensed her life into a single suitcase and returned to the United States to begin again. 

Demirkoparan has performed and exhibited her work at the Berlin Biennial Art Wiki Project (2012), Highways Performance Space and Gallery in Los Angeles (2013 & 2016), and FAR Bazaar (2017). She has an MFA from California Institute of the Arts, and a BA from University of California, Riverside.  Her awards include the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Max H. Gluck Foundation fellowships. Demirkoparan is the cofounder of the MinEastry of Postcollapse Art and Culture, an artist-run space and  think tank dedicated to rethinking our contemporary moment since the fall of the Berlin Wall.  She currently lives and works in Portland, Oregon.

In my work, I strive to articulate something for which I have no name yet; a perspective deeply influenced by my position as a Turkish-American migrant belonging neither here nor there. There’s an uncertainty that animates my work precisely because those notions of identity, difference, and the false dichotomy of “east vs west” were never certain to begin with. Whereas my earlier work explores this space of otherness by evoking the bizarre and often baffling narratives of identity, my practice has since evolved to seek a connection with my heritage, which feels evermore distant and estranged.

My paintings draw inspiration from the abstract language of Turkish kilims (rugs). Historically, each motif on a kilim represents a singular idea and when woven in combination with other motifs and colors, they evoke nonverbal narratives of lives lived. For example, the burr motif, depending on its positioning, represents either a nomadic lifestyle, or survivorship after displacement. The hairband motif can mean a celebration of a joyous occasion, or more strikingly, a desire for immortality, perhaps in grief of a devastating loss. This symbolic language has endured centuries of wars, migrations, and even the rise and fall of empires to communicate the joys and the sorrows of humans in a way that transcends the boundaries of time and space. I use these motifs to mark the twists and turns of my own journey towards belonging. In many ways, my approach is similar, – both in terms of practice and thinking, – to the Dansaekwha school that emerged in postwar Korea.

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