‘My art is my fight’

Wood burning and relief artist Mehmet Selim Gökçen stated that as a Kurdish artist, he is standing against assimilation and fighting through his art.

Wood burning and relief artist Mehmet Selim Gökçen (63) was born in Mardin’s Kızıltepe district. He spoke to the ANF about his art and the mission he puts on it.

Mehmet Selim Gökçen stated that as a product of reason and intelligence, art makes history and artistic creativity is not achieved through numbers or the size of the population, but with depth and education. Gökçen said the Middle East’s historic legacy is being wasted and said the following on how he got started and what mission he took on:


“Art is not genetic. I know this from myself. When I was a child, I was an artistically inclined student, I could draw well. I was always searching for something. I was raised as one of the stonemason architects of Mardin, but my search with painting and art continued with only occasionally making sculptures. In an exposition which I was part of in Istanbul, an artist friend of mine proposed wood burning tableaus. This friend even gifted me his trusty old hot iron. After I returned to Mardin, I had trouble procuring the wood I would use to burn. In my first attempt, I took two pieces of plywood from an old door in a furniture workshop and I started to burnish the image of Jesus Christ on it. I saw that my first-time wood was not suitable, so I wasn’t happy. Then I started to buy the correct type of wood and make tableaus that depict Kurdish culture and Middle Eastern motifs.”


Gökçen stressed that he is a Kurdish artist and stressed that he is striving to uncover and revive the motifs, myths and immortal names of Kurdistan and the Middle East through this artform. “As I know that art requires patience, I work and produce with this sensibility in mind,” said Gökçen and added: “I have been professionally engaged in wood burning for 8 years.”


I educate young students sent over by the Mardin Museum. I have trained over 15 educators who want to keep this artform alive and do it as a hobby. This last year I taught painting and sculpture in the Mardin Artuklu University as part of the culture and arts classes. Now I have regular students and I continue to teach this artform.”


Gökçen said he has a private collection and that he doesn’t know what the fate of the tableaus he made on demand for the municipalities in Kurdistan was after the trustees were appointed. Gökçen said: “Whichever mythological figure or immortal name I depict, I either already have knowledge on them or I do research first. I believe I am fighting against cultural and artistic assimilation through my art, and I do all I can to this end. I have a private collection with more than a hundred portraits of Derwêş û Adulê, Rustemê Zal, Şahmaran, Ahura Mazda, Kawayê Hesinkar, Celadet Bedirxan, Ehmedê Xani, Yılmaz Güney, Ayşe Şan, Osman Sabri, Hamurabi, Aram Tigran and Cegerxwîn. Several municipalities requested special tableaus like the Mardin Metropolitan Municipality and I made them. I don’t know what their fate is after the trustees.”


Gökçen pointed out that culture and arts erase and heal the wounds and marks left by wars and said: “In France, they built an opera house along with bakeries and homes after the war. Because art is rehabilitating. Culture and arts feed a dead soul and revive it. There is no limit to the pain we suffered as a people. We must protect our culture and our arts against assimilation and acknowledge their healing power. Our cultural and artistic institutions should be based on dynamism and solidarity for strength building. We must protect more and be in a disciplined solidarity.”