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Gordian Knot

Sculptures of Alexander the Great are perhaps the most symbolic indicators of the ongoing animosity between Greece and the Republic of Macedonia—a country that came into existence following the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia. Greece perceives the Republic of Macedonia as a veiled threat to a region within its own territory that bears the same name. It is a conflict that is not only about borders or population; it is instead aimed towards the past, and cultural identities. Despite the protests of Greece, the government of Macedonia continues to feverishly attach its identity to the ancient period, and erect one Alexander the Great statue after the other. The question that concerns Çavuşoğlu is in the precise centre of this debate, dating back to the time of the Ancient Kingdom of Macedonia: who is the “true owner” of Macedonian cultural heritage? In “Gordian Knot”, the replica of the Head of Alexander does not only breach the singularity of the original, it also questions the claim of rights regarding history and land via cultural heritage. Departing from this debate, Çavuşoğlu’s installation dissects the argument that nations/individuals can sustain their existence only insofar as they are able to position their origins in the past, and in fact, that this continuity can, if necessary, be invented.

Extract from Özge Ersoy’s article commissioned by ARTER for the exhibition catalogue of Envy, Enmity, Embarrassment text. Read the full version here.

Ceramic, 50 x 29, h: 28 cm.



… Gordian Knot (2013), a ceramic head by Aslı Çavuşoğlu based on a 2nd-century BC sculpture housed in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.

The title of Çavuşoğlu’s sculpture references a prophecy that Alexander is said to have fulfilled; that whoever untied a particular oxcart in Phyriga’s capital would rule Asia. But its form, per the exhibition text, is anchored to a more recent challenge: ‘the long-standing antagonism between Greece and the Republic of North Macedonia’, with one half of Alexander’s split face shifting up like a tectonic plate.

Ocula Magazine by Stephanie Bailey