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April 21, 2022

Berkay Tuncay: Reflecting Cultural Codes in Sharp Relief

Berkay Tuncay (born in 1983), Untitled (Study for Kanye’s Tweets No. 2), 2017, 15 earthenware tablets, 270 x 320 cm. MMFA, purchase, through the generosity of An-Lap Vo-Dignard and Jennifer Nguyen. Image courtesy of the artist and SANATORIUM

Thanks to the support and generosity of loyal donors An-Lap Vo-Dignard and Jennifer Nguyen, the Museum recently acquired Untitled (Study for Kanye’s Tweets No. 2), a thought-provoking installation by Turkish artist Berkay Tuncay that was exhibited at the 2021 Contemporary Istanbul Art Fair. This exciting new work will be on view for visitors to discover in the Wing for the Arts of One World as of April 26.

Iris Amizlev. Photo MMFA, Christine Guest

Iris Amizlev

Curator – Community Engagement and Projects

Berkay Tuncay is a multidisciplinary Turkish artist who lives and works in Istanbul. He is keenly interested in the layered effects the Internet has on global society, which he explores by copying, combining and transforming cultural codes in the form of online images, texts, memes and videos.

Tuncay obtained a bachelor’s degree in Archaeological Restoration and Conservation from Istanbul University, and a master’s in Computer Aided Art and Design from the Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts, in Istanbul. He is represented by the Sanatorium Gallery in Istanbul, and has had solo exhibitions in this city as well as in Berlin, Izmir and Amsterdam. The artist has participated in numerous group exhibitions and residencies throughout Turkey and in various cities across Europe and the United States.

Credit

Untitled (Study for Kanye’s Tweets No. 2) is based on a selection of tweets posted by rap artist, record producer and fashion designer Kanye West between 2012 and 2017. After collecting and classifying 997 of West’s messages, Tuncay picked out those that talked about art and being an artist, and rearranged the words to create a fictional speech. He then copied the phrases into a text editor that converted the Latin letters into symbols representing cuneiform script, and engraved these transliterations onto clay tablets.

Tuncay’s academic background comes through in the material, form and disposition of the elements in this installation. While inspired by the presentation of cuneiform tablets in the Istanbul Archaeology Museums, they also mimic modern-day Apple iPhones and iPads in their dimensions and the arrangements of their displays. The interplay between the present day and ancient past along the lines of form, medium and modes of transmission adds rich texture to the reading of this installation.

Credit

Berkay Tuncay (born in 1983), Untitled (Study for Kanye’s Tweets No. 2), 2017, 15 earthenware tablets, 270 x 320 cm. MMFA, purchase, through the generosity of An-Lap Vo-Dignard and Jennifer Nguyen. Image courtesy of the artist and SANATORIUM

The artist attempts to bring the societal effects of the Internet into sharp relief by merging references to ancient and modern information dissemination platforms while evoking one of the earliest forms of writing.1 The cuneiform system began to be used in Turkey in around 2900 BCE to transcribe Sumerian on clay tablets. Such tablets were used to send letters, and record the work of administrators and the commercial transactions of merchants.2 From the artist’s perspective, aside from their diminutive size, which facilitated their portability, cuneiform tablets can be equated with cellphones and social media sites for the purposes they served: “The old clay tablets are proto-letters – many of them also have envelopes out of clay – proto-emails, proto-smartphones... [that were used to] send messages, take notes, record debts and make an inventory... and pass [this information] on to the next generation.”3

Credit

This iteration of Tuncay’s work depicts Kanye West promoting himself. Holding influence over some 31 million followers, he is a product of the mass media – a commodity of sorts – and his tweets can be compared to the contracts inscribed on ancient tablets. West’s declarations in cuneiform embody his self-aggrandizement as an artist:

Hi Grammys. This is the most important living artist talking. First thing is I’m an artist and as an artist I will express how I feel with no censorship. Stop trying to demonize real artists. Stop trying to compromise art...

Through Untitled (Study for Kanye’s Tweets No. 2), Tuncay is making a critical commentary on the representation of people on the Internet and in social media, and the curation and circulation of images and messages communicated by these iconic figures.

Berkay Tuncay (born in 1983), Untitled (Study for Kanye’s Tweets No. 2) (detail), 2017, 15 earthenware tablets, 270 x 320 cm. MMFA, purchase, through the generosity of An-Lap Vo-Dignard and Jennifer Nguyen. Image courtesy of the artist and SANATORIUM



1 Writing was first developed in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) in about 3500 BCE.

2 The MMFA has three cuneiform tablets in its holdings: a contract for the loan of four cows; a text about textiles; and a text referring to “patronage” for a temple.

3 Taken from an email correspondence with the author on November 4, 2021.

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