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Metin Bereketli: Colorful messages through art

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    Metin Bereketli: Colorful messages through art I m proud to be an American citizen... I ve been through a lot, but the USA has given me the opportunities --
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 14, 1998
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      Metin Bereketli: Colorful messages through art

      'I'm proud to be an American citizen... I've been through a lot,
      but the USA has given me the opportunities -- equal opportunities. If
      you are honest and hard working you can become successful in America'
      'Here in Istanbul, the roots of many races flow and intermingle --
      maybe we should all take a minute to meditate on peace'



      Louise Johnstone

      Istanbul - There is an important message in his work, and, nowadays,
      Turkish-American painter Metin Bereketli travels to spread the word.
      No, he's not on a religious pilgrimage, but rather is an artist who
      wishes to fight racism, sexism, and work towards world peace through
      his paintings.

      No small task, but this man has an enthusiasm and optimism that many
      would envy and a determination to reach his goal. Born in Izmir from a
      "not very well off family," he graduated from technical college in 1981
      and went to the States in '85. Today, however, he calls himself "a
      world citizen."

      "I happen to be an American citizen now," he says, "but tomorrow I
      might give an exhibition in South Africa and my philosophy would be the
      same. No country out there is perfect; there are good apples and bad
      apples everywhere, but I have to do something with my art to create
      hope. I saw an emptiness in this country so I created these latest
      pieces. You cannot change the world in one day, but I will continue to
      pass on my messages."

      Bereketli recently exhibited his paintings at the Harbiye Military
      Museum in cooperation with the Child Leukaemia Foundation (CLF). The
      main theme of these 60 works was love and friendship, an endeavor to
      stretch people's imaginations to the limit.

      Bereketli cooperates with nonprofit organizations in Los Angeles and
      elsewhere around the world. Here his paintings are giving hope to
      children in Turkey suffering from leukaemia.

      His charity work began when, while exhibiting in Istanbul in 1996, he
      visited the CLF hospital and was moved by this experience. "I met some
      of the children suffering from leukaemia and saw mothers crying and
      fathers trying to comfort their families. It was a tragedy. Often these
      families don't even have enough money to get their children the medical
      treatment they need."

      Bereketli then organized a painting workshop for a handful of Turkish
      kids suffering from leukaemia, and they ended up with a creative mess
      that included painting themselves. "I told them to be free, no
      pressure, and they just painted. We all had a great time." That event
      generated a lot of publicity for the foundation and produced photos
      that have since been used to make calendars and other products for
      fund-raising.

      Back in America, Bereketli showed the photos to the American Leukaemia
      Foundation and they were so impressed they used the piece for the
      invitation cover for the foundation's 1997 Triumphs Awards hosted by
      Cindy Crawford. "I'm not interested in the money, I can always make
      money, but if you give out love and hope, you will always receive back
      something far more rewarding than money."

      The American dream

      Bereketli's story is proof that everybody can realize their goals
      through hard work and a bit of luck -- "the American Way." When he
      arrived in the United States on the shores of Texas in 1985, he could
      speak 10 words of English (including "I love you") and had limited
      funds. But he studied English 12 hours a day, (using the paper towels
      from the bathroom in the hostel where he was staying as practice
      paper), worked odd jobs, even had his own shoeshine stand at one stage,
      "the ideal way to practice English," he explains. Now his paintings
      sell from between $2,000 to $30,000, he has had a piece selected for
      auction at Sotheby's in London and the National Museum of American Art
      library has selected his work for cataloguing.

      But talking to this man, you can see he has worked hard and also that
      he has the `gift of the gab' and has taken every opportunity. "I'm
      proud to be an American citizen," he says. "I've been through a lot but
      the USA has given me the opportunities -- equal opportunities. If you
      are honest and hard working you can become successful in America," he
      says.

      Bereketli began to paint seriously in 1989. He showed his pieces in a
      local restaurant where he was also doing stand up comedy. He says he
      seemed to get more response towards his art than his jokes, so he
      decided to stick to painting.

      In 1992 he headed to Los Angeles. "I was like a lost child. This city
      was huge, there were people, traffic everywhere but the whole time I
      was thinking, 'I must do something to relate to these people.'" He
      settled on courier work specifically for the film, television and art
      industries. "So while I was delivering scripts for Warner Bros I could
      also drop off one of my postcards or calendars," he says.

      His pieces titled "LA LA LA" and "NY NY NY" came from this period of
      studying road maps and dealing with traffic and road rage. Each piece
      includes positive energy symbols to show that if you think positively
      you can overcome the negative thoughts brought on by a congested city.

      His ingenuity paid off, for after one year he had been "discovered"; a
      Santa Monica gallery selected seven of Bereketli's paintings and
      effectively launched his career.

      Determined self-promotion has been the other key to Bereketli's
      success. "Everyone has to do a little shmoozing," he says. "I may be
      the best shmoozer in the USA! Bill Clinton has my art (a print of his
      piece titled 'Forever Free' featuring Abraham Lincoln) and so do the
      senators of all 50 states," he enthuses. "I always have my portfolio
      with me, I never miss an opportunity. I don't give out business cards,
      I give people my postcards instead."

      He has worked as an extra and stunt double on many Hollywood films (his
      hobby), including "Eraser," with Arnold Schwarzenegger (who has one of
      Bereketli's paintings printed on a t-shirt), "Billy Bathgate," "Batman
      Forever" and "Heat," to name only a few. Working on set gives Bereketli
      an opportunity to present his work to these people and talk about his
      philosophy. "These people are extremely generous and do a lot of good
      work for charitable organizations," he says. "I wish Turkish
      celebrities were the same. If they stopped thinking about money for a
      short while and used their influence for good causes they would feel
      better within themselves and would also help achieve world peace
      quicker."

      Arriving in Istanbul this time, he has raised more awareness on behalf
      of CLF. Bereketli sold five pieces on his opening night, the proceeds
      of which will go to the CLF. They also collect donations from the
      exhibition and benefit from the publicity generated by the show. "I
      was told that this time of year was the dead season for art exhibitions
      in Istanbul because the people in the art business are away on holiday.
      But I'm not giving exhibitions for just these people, I want everyone
      to see my work. Other countries have no such rule and I think we need
      to break these bad habits."

      Perusing his paintings there are many issues raised, and Bereketli
      hopes those who visited the exhibition went away with many colorful
      questions in mind. "Peace at home, peace in the world," a noted saying
      of Ataturk's, has been used as the title for a piece using Ataturk's
      silhouette. Tree branches come from the bottom of the work up through
      the head symbolizing the tree of life. The central shape is surrounded
      by 19 white doves, the international symbol of peace. Bereketli says
      he was very excited after painting the doves to discover they numbered
      19, as this was a lucky number for Ataturk himself. "I really admire
      this person. He created a good base for this country and gave everybody
      the right to live and vote in Turkey."

      A similar piece, "Forever Free," shows the 16th president of the United
      States, Abraham Lincoln, also in silhouette. Bereketli says America and
      Turkey are similar in that they are both built on a mosaic of peoples
      and beliefs. Lincoln, with his humanist philosophy, broke the chains of
      slavery and said every person was equal, quotes Bereketli. "Freely and
      peacefully the people started to fly like the doves in this work," he
      says.

      Bereketli's colorful map of Istanbul, with ships and dots of various
      colors, mosques, churches, synagogues and other holy places, is simply
      titled "Istanbul." Bereketli says the different colored ships and dots
      represent the different religions and beliefs in Turkey. The impetus
      behind the painting is the much-discussed subject of secularism. "Some
      people are trying to destroy the democracy in this country and I'm
      totally against this," he says.

      "Sperm Bank II" was a reaction to a sperm bank in America that only
      accepted Caucasian sperm. "In my painting, sperm of all different
      colors and ethnicities are swimming harmoniously together. At first
      people laugh at this image but actually it sends quite a serious
      message against racism."

      "Bridging the Gap," a piece that has been purchased for display by the
      Los Angeles Children's Hospital, shows that the roots of all people are
      intertwined.

      Here in Istanbul, the roots of many races flow and intermingle -- maybe
      we should all take a minute to meditate on peace.



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