Society’s Viewpoints Are On Display In This Chicago Artist’s Work


Hale Ekinci embroidering in an art studio filled with yarn and materials

Artist Hale Ekinci examines the intertwining of cultures and the role of traditional craft.

Family photos and old bedsheets aren’t what people traditionally think of as fine art. And that’s the point of Hale Ekinci’s work. The Turkish interdisciplinary artist uses those materials—along with other domestic textiles and found surfaces—to examine acculturation, immigrant identity and notions about gendered labor. 

a partially finished work of embroidery by Hale Ekinci

After transferring photos on materials such as bed sheets, Ekinci uses embroidery as another level of embellishment.

An embroidered cloth with photo tranfer images of a family

“I like exaggeration,” Ekinci says. “Some of it could be considered kitschy, but I’m more interested in exploring women’s work that is not considered fine art.”

a desk with cups of markers and pencils, a pin cushion, a notebook and an exhibition catalog

"I like the accessibility of my work," Ekinci muses. "It brings out memories for people."

a piece of embroidered fabric with images of flowers and people

Using solvent photo transfer, acrylic, embroidery floss, yarn crochet and glass beads, Ekinci explores self identity in "Who What Where Are We From?"

Using both her own family photos and those of her Indiana-raised husband, Ekinci creates what she refers to as “intercultural portraits,” transferring the photographs onto the patterned bedsheet using wintergreen oil and a spoon to rub the image into the fabric. Often, she repeats the same photograph as a pattern—to represent the collective rather than the individual—and then collages, paints or embellishes them with embroidery to “muddle” their identities further. Many of the adornments are tongue-in-cheek references to Turkish and American cultures, while others play with gender stereotypes. 

The artist finishes the fabric edges with thick, colorful crochet yarn using a lace technique known as oya, which Turkish women traditionally use for the head scarves they wear for tasks like farming and cooking. In her research, Ekinci discovered that, historically, Turkish women would use the patterns on their head scarves to express themselves through a kind of secret code that only the other women would understand. 

Yet, Ekinci is very aware of how, to some, her work may come across as kitschy or hobby-like, but that’s exactly where the subversiveness lies. “Growing up, I was surrounded by females making and embellishing things just for the sake of it,” she recalls. “But now, I’m nodding to the value of women’s crafts while making a piece of fine art.”

And that’s something that resonates with many viewers of her work. “I’ve noticed that several of the people I talk to from smaller towns in the U.S. or non-Western cultures feel a sense of closeness to my art,” she says, adding that her mother-in-law often brings family photographs for her to use in upcoming pieces. “There is something about the way I use so much color, so much pattern that’s almost universal. I like that it brings out memories in people, or a sense of warmth and coziness.”