The Daily Heller: In Turkey, Gürbüz’s Art Responds to the Tragedy

Posted inThe Daily Heller

Turkey and Syria’s recent natural disaster has put these countries front and center in the news. Gürbüz Doğan Ekşioğlu (aka Gürbüz) is a celebrated Turkish cartoonist, graphic designer, teacher and painter (b. 1954) who has been posting daily Instagram images for over a decade. Since the earthquake devastated the region last week, he continues to post imagery depicting the terrible event and resulting loss of life as a way to show solidarity with his country and its people.

Gürbüz has been drawing cartoons since 1977. He has had nine solo exhibitions, including one in New York City, and his work has appeared on five New Yorker covers, and in various newspapers and magazines, such as Forbes, The Atlantic and The New York Times. I reached him in Istanbul through his translator, Ozlem Mutaf Buyukarman. I had been planning a feature on Gürbüz prior to the current tragedy, but his presence on this site is even more poignant in view of what has happened.

Natural disaster knows no boundaries.

How long have you been posting your illustrations online?
With the widespread use of Facebook in the 2010s, I started to draw and share drawings on current issues of that time. I was motivated by the interest of my followers. In April 2014, I had an exhibition of 192 works I drew only for Facebook, and it lasted for two months. After Instagram came out, I have been sharing my drawings there, as well, where I also have 136,000 followers.

Before social media, how did your work get distributed?
Before social media, I was working on oil and acrylic on canvas for several exhibitions. At the same time, I was doing illustrations for advertising agencies and print media.

Your work is commentary on current concerns and issues. Would you identify yourself as a “cartoonist”?
I benefit a lot from the creativity and intelligence of the cartoon (I received many awards in national and international cartoon competitions for a while). I benefit from the values of illustration and painting; I have never worked as a cartoonist in a newspaper or a magazine, thus I consider myself an illustrator rather than a cartoonist.

The language of surrealism spreads through your work. Where did you learn it?
I was influenced by Milton Glaser and Turkish graphic designer Mengü Ertel during my high school years. While studying at the School of Applied Fine Arts, Department of Graphic Arts (a Bauhaus School, now Marmara University Faculty of Fine Arts) … I was influenced by many artists such as Folon, Fukuda, Turkish cartoonists Turhan Selçuk, Ali Ulvi Ersoy (his caricature was published in the New Yorker magazine between 1952–1954). I was also influenced by graphic artists in magazines such as Graphis, Novum, PRINT, Idea.

In many countries where there is press limitation, surrealism has been a method of getting around restrictions. Have you had any problems with the reception of your work?
Since I do not draw for print media, I have not faced any pressure yet. But, I have been presenting self-censorship in recent years. I cannot draw as boldly as before.

How has the massive earthquake impacted your work and the frequency of your posting?
It is said to be the second-largest earthquake in the world. 13.5 million people living in 10 cities were affected by the earthquake; the number of destroyed buildings is very high and tens of thousands of people are waiting to be rescued under the rubble.

We are very sad as a country. I think that the artist should document the period in which he lives. Since the earthquake happened, today is the eighth day, and I have shared 16 drawings on social media (Instagram, Facebook and Twitter).