contemporary angst

On parenthood with Rubens, Goya and Elif Ergen

Elif Varol Ergen is an Ankara-born contemporary artist, illustrator and designer and also, since June 2013, a mother. Her amazing sketches show what some of us struggle so hard to hide.

There are two other certainties in life besides the proverbial death and taxes: the reality of our birth and the constant weakening of our power. A popular religion cleverly sums that up into “from ashes to ashes and from dust to dust”, but before the ashes and the dust, there is a great deal of flesh the phrasing conveniently obliterates.

This very same flesh is the fabric of torment for centuries upon centuries of pious and devout. And even before them, because before being creatures of conscience we are creatures of flesh, creatures of habit, telluric, if you will. We abide by the same rules of nature as all the other dirt-crawlers and this, of course, means that we too, feel fear – a great deal of it, that boils under the surface like the under glazing of a lava cake. The only difference is that we often have to hide it. Concealing it becomes even more of an imperative when it grows to the point of a malaise, when it turns into anxiety or panic, when it looks malsaine. And it looks malsaine when it breaks boundaries of convenience, or when it is directed at our own. This very look of decrepit sickness is what some of those depicting fear were trying to make us see.

Saturn devouring his son by Rubens

If you take the Greeks, for instance, they portrayed what once was the pinnacle of fatherhood fear in the gruesome tale of Cronus and his sons.

One of the Greek myths describes the titan Cronus who, upon learning of a prophecy claiming his son will be his doom, started fearing that he would be overthrown by one of his children and ate each one upon their birth – a horrid act of filicide. The titan’s wife, Ops, managed to hide one of his descendants, Jupiter who, sure enough, grew to defeat his father and take his place, thus fulfilling the prophecy.

The Greek cruel depiction of extreme fear didn’t go unnoticed. In fact, it was re-enacted under the expert brush of a Flemish baroque painter that went by the name of Rubens. In turn, he served as inspiration to the Spanish eccentric Goya, who decided to decorate the walls of his dining room with his own version of the filicide scene, now known as Saturn, devouring his son. The scene doesn’t lack interpretations: some say it is Time, the devourer of things. Others say it is political. I say it is yet another instance of natural and legitimate fear: fear of the kind we choose to hide, so that we can sleep at night and let others sleep, too.

Saturn devouring his son by Goya

I feel the same type of fear in modern works, as well. Surely, time passed and we are not the same people that stood in perplexed paralysis staring at the savagery and indecency of the painter’s brush. We’re creatures of a different kind; all the same but slightly different, encouraging and embracing our natural selves. And surely, we no longer ask of our own to raise above their human condition, surely we empathize and can relate to their plight and their angst, and to whatever other tokens of frailty. That is why we would never ask of parents to be something they are not, and we would never go around preaching that, say, mothers should be “natural born” and perfectly apt for motherhood from day T, minus one. And it is a good thing we don’t go around preaching that. Oh, wait.

They are about motherhood, psycological instability, deep anxiety, morbid mother and child relations, longing, etc.

There is one particularly interesting contemporary artist that took upon herself to depict the under glazing of the parent-child relationship and to expose, if you will, the hidden layers of the lava cake. She goes by the name of Elif Varol Ergen, an Ankara-born illustrator and designer that is also, since June 2013, a mother.

I remember – Forget it by Elif Ergen

Elif told Hi-Fructose the other day that the disturbing nature of her new sketches is entangled with her experience of pregnancy and motherhood: “they are about motherhood, psycological instability, deep anxiety, morbid mother and child relations, longing, etc”.

the gun by Elif Ergen

In other words, this is how fear looks from within. This is how instinct takes over reason in a swirl of worrying. Perhaps the fabric of this turmoil is what allowed Giger‘s alien such a smooth passage into our world: it made sense, somehow we all could relate. And it doesn’t get much better than that from the moment of conceiving until the moment the child rests in the mother’s arms. Even then, an astounding proportion of women ask the doctor – for no apparent reason in the world – if their newborn is mentally healthy. Perhaps knowing what they’ve seen and kept locked inside is what’s prompting them to ask – just to make extra sure, you never know.

princess by Elif Ergen

If you haven’t seen Elif’s works until now, go check her out on Hi-Fructose or on the artist’s personal website, where a whole lot more of her obsessive creations await. It isn’t hüzün, but something that stays true to the predicament of fear instead.

drawing by Elif Ergen

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