Garabet Cezayirliyan's atelier at the Palace of St. Eugene in Tophane, Istanbul, as it is operated today by his former apprentice, Kemal Cimbiz. These molds, made by the Armenian master, will be on view alongside the new molds and positives created by Michael Rakowitz in collaboration with Cimbiz. When giving Cimbiz over as an apprentice to his master, his parents told Cezayirliyan, "The flesh is yours, the bones are ours." A customary Turkish saying, the phrase is meant to convey that the teacher is granted influence over the learner. The expression cuts deeper in this project, however, as the many architectural flourishes found on the "skin" of Istanbul's buildings were created by Armenian craftsmen like Cezayirliyan and their ateliers.
The 14th Istanbul Biennial, curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, positions the arts and sciences in dynamic and productive relation, and also coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. Michael Rakowitz's project draws attention to the peril of Turkey's Armenian population in the early-twentieth century. The Flesh Is Yours, The Bones Are Ours develops around the legacy of an Armenian plaster caster named Garabet Cezayirliyan, who was responsible for crafting the old moldings and friezes installed on the facades of the Art Nouveau edifices in Istanbul, many of which remain visible today. Rakowitz's work engages with this craft as an opening to larger questions about the transmission of knowledge and the maintenance of tradition as a resistance against cultural erasure.
Michael Rakowitz is an artist living and working in Chicago. He received his BFA in sculpture from Purchase College, SUNY, and his MS in visual studies from MIT. Rakowitz's art practice operates at tense sociopolitical junctures. In 1998, he initiated paraSITE, an ongoing project in which the artist custom builds inflatable shelters for homeless people that attach to the exterior outtake vents of a building's heating, ventilation, or air-conditioning systems. His work has appeared in venues worldwide, including dOCUMENTA 13, PS1, MoMA, MassMOCA, Castello di Rivoli, the 16th Sydney Biennale, the 10th Istanbul Biennial, Sharjah Biennial 8, the Tirana Biennale, the National Design Triennial at the Cooper-Hewitt, and Transmediale 05. Solo exhibitions include the Tate Modern in London, Lombard Freid Gallery in New York, Trafo Gallery in Budapest, and Kunstraum Innsbruck. His public projects, Return (2006) and Spoils (2011), were presented by Creative Time in New York. He is the recipient of a 2012 Tiffany Foundation Award; a 2008 Creative Capital Grant; a Sharjah Biennial Jury Award; a 2006 NYFA Fellowship Grant in Architecture and Environmental Structures; the 2003 Dena Foundation Award; and the 2002 Design 21 Grand Prix from UNESCO. His work features in major private and public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Neue Galerie, Kassel, Germany; the Smart Museum of Art, Chicago; the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, the Netherlands; the British Museum; the Kabul National Museum, Afghanistan; and UNESCO, Paris. Rakowitz is professor of art theory and practice at Northwestern University.