Camada a Partir do Plano de Fundo: Leylâ Gediz in Martim Moniz
The Martim Moniz square is Lisbon’s primary transitional place. Marked by people, their stories and the places from which they come. That is where the artist Leylâ Gediz presents her first solo exhibition in Portugal, inside the forgotten building of the architect Bartolomeu Costa Cabral. Painting and the commotion of Martim Moniz square dialogue here about identity displacements.
To enter the exhibition Camada a partir do Plano de Fundo, we have to walk the hectic route of the Martim Moniz square and the surrounding streets, passing through crowds, cars and trams, at a time when Lisbon’s tourism has started to return to normal after the pandemic. In Rua do Arco do Marquês do Alegrete no. 6, we go up the ramp that leads to the Bartolomeu Costa Cabral building. When we cross a sort of curtains made of canvas strips, the exhibition starts. We see Intro II (2020) as if we were entering any typical square shop, with the famous anti-mosquito fringe curtains at the door. The bustle lies behind this curtain and the work differentiates between outside and inside, even though there is no entrance door to the exhibition. Even so, the silence inside Costa Cabral’s building is flooded by the hubbub of the square; we are still in Martim Moniz.
The building’s design wanted to cater for the needs of commercial rehousing, making it a link between the square and the Mouraria, with new spaces for ownership, relationship and participation. However, the wide public spaces initially conceived (garden and terrace) were not built, the galleries (outdoor and indoor) were not used by shopkeepers and, “for security reasons, the crossings were closed”. Started in 1973, developed until 1975 and delayed until 1981, the building today is largely closed and abandoned.
Leylâ Gediz lives and works in Lisbon, but was born in Turkey. As an immigrant, she has with her the feeling of displacement; what she knows is now far away. She regards her new place with the sensibility of someone who knows uncertainty, finding in Martim Moniz square what is most similar to this sensation. Holding an exhibition in a disused building reminds her of her initial purpose: architecture as a public space; allowing people to walk around Martim Moniz every day, to visit the enigmatic building’s interior.
Inside, the painting blends with the building’s architecture. Leylâ Gediz is not trying to exalt the works in the venue. She sparingly uses colour, always employing the same beige tones without any major contrasts. And what emerges on the canvases? Ordinary, discarded objects, left near dumpsters for others to use; Leylâ Gediz takes these objects, often in a process that requires photographing them, manipulating them digitally and only then moving them to the painting plane – a process she detailed to me as I visited the exhibition.
As we walk up the stairs to the exhibition floor, we see Layer From Background (2021), the work that gives the exhibition its name. This is a large-format painting that displays a sterile room with several cardboard boxes (typical moving boxes) scattered across the floor. Gediz’s desire to portray transitory environments, changed by the actions of their occupants, is clear; and the image of an empty house with moving boxes also pertains to the imagination of each one of us. The exhibition’s title is a primary reference to the image editing software Photoshop, in which is implicit “the transformation of the background into a single layer, ceasing to exist the idea of scenery” ; an idea that makes the background lose importance, so that all the other layers and figures can move freely; a movement also applicable to places and people.
The way Leylâ Gediz presents the works is different, especially when it comes to the display of realistic paintings, normally limited to the wall under an unapproachable status. However, Leylâ Gediz is not afraid to put them on the floor here; indeed, the works Untitled [broken egg] (2020) and Precarious (2022) seem concealed in the building’s architecture and, next to cardboard boxes, appear to mimic an object that someone has discarded, just like the ones the artist paints on the canvases. Gediz apparently exalts the ordinary.
At the building’s other end, the highlight is Who Killed Danijoy (2022). As the name of the piece suggests, this is a reference to 23-year-old Danijoy Pontes, who was murdered in prison in Lisbon. His case sparked protests that called for the Prosecutor’s Office to reopen the investigation to inquire into his death’s circumstances. Leylâ Gediz puts the name Danijoy in the work’s title, painting a banner used in a demonstration in Martim Moniz: a visual element known by the Lisbon population. The main figure in this painting is a woman, a friend of Leylâ Gediz, sitting at a kind of table in the centre of the frame. The setting is again a sterile room, without decoration or personal ornaments; it looks like a transitory place, again with moving boxes. Leylâ Gediz’s friend is called Pina and is also displaced, having been born in the Philippines; Leylâ and Pina share the feeling of being immigrants in Lisbon, of having transitioned from the background to the same layer.
Camada a Partir do Plano de Fundo is the personal viewpoint of an immigrant artist about the city of Lisbon, the Martim Moniz square and the people who carry out their daily lives there; the exhibition invites these people to visit this building whose doors are generally closed. Leylâ Gediz brings together objects and visual elements that are part of collective memory.
Camada a Partir do Plano de Fundo is on show until May 14, 2022 at the Bartolomeu Costa Cabral building (Rua do Arco do Marquês do Alegrete no. 6).
 de Oliveira Couto, Maria Laura. “O Edifício na Praça de Martim Moniz (1973-1984) de Bartolomeu Costa Cabral: uma proposta de continuidade.” (2020). Page 95
 de Oliveira Couto, Maria Laura (2020). Page 107
 Excerpt taken from the exhibition introductory text, Camada a partir do Plano de Fundo