MEHMET & KAZIM
PILEVNELI | YALIKAVAK
"We are responsible for unruly and wild painting", states the duo Mehmet & Kazım (aka Kissing Cousins), who live in Germany and are known for their unusual style and provocative lines in harmony with popular culture. While studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, they realised that street culture, marked by colour, vitality and freedom, was not accepted and even despised. In order to overcome these prejudices and walk on their own path, they created a new, fresh and fun world for themselves by combining the energy of hip-hop and breakdance with the rebellious touch of graffiti. They reflect the most tangible expressions of rebellion by having fun including mischievous figures such as kissing mouths, ironic symbols and actions of propaganda and protest in their works. Although they face the social difficulties of their Turkish-German identity due to being the children of guest workers who migrated from Turkey to Germany, the fact that they are the grandchildren of the famous painter Haşmet Akal opens the door to an important chance in the field of painting and art for them. Inspired by the words "ak(white)" and "al(red)" that make up their surnames, the Akal cousins have built a world where red and white predominate, and have included themselves in this fascinating combination of colours and emotions with their alter-ego characters, the Kissing Cousins. Stating themselves as heirs of the "Neue Wilden" movement, which can be considered as neo-expressionism, the duo integrates the rules of art history with the unlimited freedom of graffiti, the rhythm of music and compositions with paints, and the act of resistance with figures and symbols.
When the Sound of the Street is Reflected in Art
The world that the creative cousins have built with hip-hop, breakdance and graffiti includes various motifs, lyrics, comic symbols and slogans belonging to this culture. Mehmet and Kazım live at the very heart of this visual language they create; it is possible to see them in their red Adidas tracksuits and Superstar trainers, lying in a hammock, diving or doing other activities. Thanks to their graffiti background, they state that there is no limit to the space to be used. Thus, although they seem to always use the same colours, in their works they experiment with the field of painting, push it, and constantly develop in terms of materials and techniques. The visual language they produce using the red and white colour palette is not only painting; through extensive spatial installations, digitally painted images or animated virtual reality videos, they take their paintings out of the canvas and extend them from limited spaces to free zones. In this universe where canvas, floor, walls and virtual reality are intertwined, it is only the artists themselves who set the boundaries.
Against the System and Prejudices: Kiss Kiss Kiss!
In March 2022, Mehmet & Kazım's exhibition at Pilevneli attracted attention with its title: "Bad and Boujee". Curious viewers or those who are familiar with rap culture could immediately realise that this name belongs to a very popular song by the American music group Migos. In this 2016 song, the word Boujee (originally from Bougie) is derived from bourgeoisie (bourgeoisie). 'Bad' refers to the lower class and their art, 'Boujee' to high art. For the cousins, the children of guest workers who grew up in Germany, this title, of course, carries a deeper meaning and it is possible to see symbols and images belonging to both concepts in their works. Reflecting their stance in life and art by saying "If there are rules, they will be broken, it's that simple", the cousins' alternative, rebellious stance is based on love. For the duo, origins, sexual orientations, beliefs, labels and adjectives are completely irrelevant. Serious issues such as equality, social injustice or the art economy/market are hidden in humorous images. Irony, which develops in different ways in societies where creativity and humour are perceived as a threat by power, becomes a method of focusing on serious issues, and even the aesthetics of protest becomes a symbol of freedom by allowing us to tell our own reality. "You can laugh at them, you can laugh with them or make them laugh, but don't forget to try to understand what is behind the seven mountains and the dwarf," the artists say about their works, and the message they want to leave to the world is love. "There is something important we would like to add," they say at the end of an interview about their exhibition: "Kiss, kiss, kiss!"
A New Exhibition with Appetite: "Juicy"*
In Mehmet & Kazım's exhibition at Pilevneli Yalıkavak, their past works dominated by iconic reds and whites are joined by the black and white works they recently produced in New York. Between March and September 2022, the duo settled in New York to add a new dimension to their art, expanding it with new symbols and signs inspired by the city. However, due to economic constraints and the fact that their studio was not suitable for large-sized canvases and oil paints, they started to use charcoal in their works and abandoned their red and white colours. In these series, although figures, eyes and feet are recognizable parts of the composition, everything is actually based on letters, symbols and walls. Like in a light snowfall, stars, dollar signs, or drops also sprinkle on them. The duo is much freer with the graphic signs, the characters seem to dissolve in their own movement. They carry free compositions from their bodies outward, raising their arms into the air again, opening their mouths, looking around hectically, maybe to spot a possible pursuer, maybe to quickly say goodbye before disappearing into the night. Because what they are also makes them easily paranoid: Throw-Ups on New York walls. Throw-Ups in graffiti and style writing refer to quickly painted names, often in bubble style, with a round contour and a single-color interior. New York City is full of them, and the cousins photographed and archived them while studying the city: "Everyone said we should paint there," the duo said, and decided to incorporate the Throw-Ups into their paintings, interpreting them as living figures and keeping them moving like a snow globe of symbols and letters.
"New York is dusty and white sneakers quickly turn grey."*
When the duo's studio in Bushwick was not suitable for rich oil paintings, they turned to a new artistic language with charcoal. Finally holding the coal in their hands in colourful, charged New York was certainly an act of relaxation, a childish prank of refusal, from which a new artistic orientation emerged. The drawings clearly demonstrate the strong desire for repetition. Again and again, the eyes and bricks mix with the symbols, letters and round body shapes. Yet, the focal points are the mouths. As it is said that the gaze provides insights into a person’s psychological state, here is the mouths that unlock and open up the gateway to the soul. The tension between surface and line, opaque and transparent, painting and drawn painting, light and shadow, becomes much more pronounced. The composition becomes the actual theme, the elements not only free themselves from their colour but also from their narration. The gaze is directed towards their presence, not their symbolism. In the black sky of the night, the dust is shaken off as the coal polishes the pictures; the large coal is fresh and always a little paranoid. To protect its own safety in the bustling streets of New York.*
* These chapters are either excerpted or inspired by the text "Endlich Kohle machen" written by Dr Larissa Kikol for Mehmet & Kazım's exhibition at Berlin Gallery Weekend.