Following The Hittite Sun
The icons of Anatolian civilization metamorphose into sculptures and household objects in Erdinç Bakla’s imaginary world.
A vast expanse where the sun never sets... Nature gods, stags, sun-discs and idols... Hattusha, or Boğazköy as it is known today, is the capital of a civilization that flourished in the third millennium B.C., and an unrivalled treasure. With their rule of law, advanced concept of trade, and cultural and artistic achievements, the Hittites were one of Anatolia’s most magnificent civilizations.
Following a concept of art that he defines as ‘splendid simplicity’, Erdinç Bakla underscores the unity of thought and feeling between us and the Hittites in his ‘Hittite Airs’ exhibition, which was held in May at the Istanbul Museum of Archaeology. “I’ve always been a staunch museum goer, and one day I just stood transfixed in front of a small figure in one of the museum showcases. It was a Hittite artefact, and I felt at that moment that I shared the emotions of the person who made it.” The Hittite legacy of wall reliefs, seals, pottery in countless shapes and varieties, rhytons in the form of animals and sacred idols is transformed today into works of art when reinterpreted in contemporary terms by Erdinç Bakla’s fertile imagination. ‘Hittite Airs’ is an outgrowth of Bakla’s 48 years of research on the civilizations of Anatolia. While a professor in the Marmara University School of Fine Arts, Bakla, who retired in 1997, did research on Iznik and Kütahya tiles, Çanakkale ceramics and Tophane clay pipe bowls. The abstract sculptures that he has created with inspiration from the Anatolia civilizations represent his first foray into the arts.
Bakla, who has been studying the arts of the Hittites and their forerunners, the Hatti, since the 1960s, has brought us contemporary sculptures as well as cutlery and crockery produced by a variety of techniques and based on designs inspired by this Bronze Age culture which dates back to the 2rd millennium B.C. Says Bakla, who believes that Turkey can make a splash in the world by looking not to the West but to her own ancient cultures, in other words, to the civilizations of ancient Anatolia: “We should create innovations by exploiting the thousands of years of cultural achievements that fill our museums, by taking that culture as our point of departure. If you take a good look at the Anatolian civilizations, you will see that we possess a limitless treasure. All we need do is be able to see it.”
A wide range of materials and techniques characterize Bakla’s reinvention of the iconic artefacts of the Hittites and the Hatti. A rhythm instrument called a ‘sistrum’ that was used in religious ceremonies is turned by him into a sculpture of glass and bronze adorned with Hittite figures; and marble idols, inspired by wall reliefs, are decorated with hieroglyphics or cuneiform. He experiments by bringing such disparate materials as cast bronze, glass, and marble together in a single shape; as, for example, in his nature gods, inspired by a glass statuette and made of tree roots and fiberglass, his stags of silver-plated bronze, his votive pins of molded polyester that reach statuesque proportions, and his storm gods decorated with relief hieroglyphics. His mountain god made of layered plexiglas and his sun-discs of Kandıra stone are typical examples of Bakla’s abstract creations.
INTERLOCKING HATTI AND HITTITE IMAGES
The words of King Anitta of Kushar, when he defeated Pijusti, King of Hattusha, in the 1700s B.C. and besieged his city, are inscribed on the famous Anitta tablet: “I took the city in a nocturnal assault and sowed weeds in its place. May the curse of the Storm God of the sky be upon whoever becomes king after me and dwells again at Hattusha.”
When the Hittites assumed control of the principalities of the Anatolian Hatti, wresting political and military, and to some extent also economic, power into their own hands, the Mesopotamian elements were gradually lost, becoming merged in the local art of Anatolia, and the original Hatti forms underwent further development. Bakla says that the ceremonial object known as the Hittite sun-disc is remembered today as the symbol of the Hittites despite actually having originated with the Hatti: “An excavation was carried out at Alacahöyük and, if I’m not mistaken, the remains of a sun disc were unearthed there. Small statuettes, sacred figures, a slew of reliefs and two royal graves were also found in those excavations. Very interesting shapes, but so thoroughly intermixed that...” His voice trails off.
A marble statue of the goddess Shaushga, the storm gods Teshub, Nerikka, Samuha and Zippalanda, the water god Aruna... Images of the gods constitute a major part of the ‘Hittite Airs’ exhibition. Among the Hittites, who believed in a polytheistic religion with thousands of deities in its pantheon, a city’s local god was its source of power. “Anatolia is a limitless treasure, especially when it comes to the Hittites. So many specimens of pottery and vessels belonging to the Hittites, who held sway for over eight hundred years, have been unearthed in the excavations that it would be no exaggeration to say there are hundreds of thousands of them. And all are original pieces...Weighed in the balance, even the treasure of Troy, which belongs to the same age, is not as original. Troy is very small of course, but it was set against the backdrop of an extensive culture like the Aegean. They imported theirs from it, and hence the forms did not develop. The Hittites are different. For one thing, the previous generation goes back to the 2200s B.C., to the Hatti. The Hittites took over their gods and established a great empire. Reaching out all the way to Mesopotamia, they borrowed both the language and the forms of the Hatti and ensured the spread of their culture.”
HITTITE-INSPIRED CUTLERY AND CROCKERY
Besides sculptures, the exhibition also includes china, cutlery and silver-plated tea sets decorated with Hittite inscriptions. Erdinç Bakla adds that he wanted to show young designers in particular the treasure trove of design that is inherent in Anatolian culture by adapting the concept of shape in Hatti and Hittite pottery to our day. “Just when I was about finished putting together the exhibition, I asked myself if there wasn’t some way the noble forms of the Hittite artifacts couldn’t be reinvented as contemporary designs. I produced the tea sets in three or four months, and they too have attracted a lot of attention.” The twenty works included in the ‘Hittite Airs’ exhibition were also displayed, side by side with their originals, at the Ankara Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in June. With his exhibition ‘Troy’, the greater part of which is ready, to be followed by ‘Çatalhöyük’ in honor of his fifty years in the profession, Erdinç Bakla is persisting on the trail of the Anatolian civilizations.