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Our Lady Luna

Luna complains about the weather and plays with her cat. She smiles and laughs and looks away when she needs to think. Luna talks about life, about feelings, about being a woman and about being a Witch. She defends kindness and celebrates femininity, and is sometimes criticised for it. When it all becomes to much, she withdraws into her own world, a world full of broken mirrors. “It is an unfinished place” she says, “but it’s safe.”

Image courtesy of Luna Ece Bal

Luna Ece Bal is a Turkish born visual artist based in Paris. Creator of the Dirty Witch Studio, her art draws inspiration from science, magic and alchemy. “My mum is a scientist, who specialised in genetics, so as a child I used to spend a lot of time in her lab. This resulted in my utter fascination with everything that involved testing tubes or Erlenmeyer flasks,” so Luna tells us. “But at the same time,” she continues “I come from a very spiritual environment. My family’s relationship with spirituality is something that fascinates me. I don’t know why, but there is something about sharing beliefs that makes people less lonely.” Luna smiles, “And I like that.”

Luna’s battle against loneliness is present in her work. From her first solo exhibition in 2016, I Lift My Lids And All Is Born Again, her art reflects her attempts to invite people into her world, her “utopia” as she calls it. By creating a space that resembled her deepest thoughts and secrets, Luna didn’t just dare her first audience to see reality through her eyes, she dared them to experience what lies behind her closed lids. They were to become Luna in order to see what she saw with her eyes shut… Only to lift their own lids afterwards and be reborn as their own selves again. “I have some sort of fixation on the idea of distorting reality.” Luna explains. “For the exhibition I placed broken mirrors everywhere. Don’t ask me why, but I love breaking mirrors. It has to do with a need to see things from a perspective I’m maybe not supposed to see from. Breaking a mirror feels like clearing the path to new and endless possibilities. It’s also lots of fun!”

Image courtesy of Luna Ece Bal

An innate curiosity, a pinch  ( or a punch ) of rebellious attitude and a conviction that art can change the world are essential to Luna’s work. However, a lot has changed since I Lift My Lids And All Is Born Again. “I look back at it and, even though I am super proud of it, I can’t help but thinking elements of it feel exaggerated, you know what I mean?” Luna speaks with her hands as much as she does with her voice, and they dance excitedly around her face. “My recent exhibitions feel like they’re quiet, like there’s more thought to them and I think that shows how I’ve grown as an artist. I’ve become more stable in the way I perceive my art.”

There’s an aspect however, from her earlier exhibitions, that Luna has been missing for a long time, and she’s determined to bring it back. “The paintings I showed during Casting the Circle, for example…” Luna starts, “they were made with a Turkish technique named Ebru, which I learned from my grandmother. I remember I originally named the series displayed at Casting the Circle, in Istanbul, Soot on Paper, due to the materials I used… But then I changed my mind.”

The tag under those paintings reads today a different name: Magic on Paper. “For me, every single piece I create using this technique feels somehow like a spell,” Luna explains. “With Ebru, you paint by spreading ink on water, creating circles, each one different from the rest. So every time I use this technique, I know I am creating something unique.” Luna’s dreamy eyes are suddenly turned serious by the pragmatic tone her voice adopts. “I like this technique because you can’t think ‘Oh, I like how this circle turned out, so I am going to make another one just like that!’ That’s not how art works, because that’s not how life works.”

Image courtesy of Luna Ece Bal

Ancient technique or allegory for life, the paintings from Magic on Paper have been often described as resembling stem cell imagery. It’s no coincidence, according to Luna. “I’ve been always very influenced by my mum’s job and growing up I was obsessed with this little project I had…” She stops for a moment, trying to find the right words and giving up, giggling to herself. “This is gonna sound super weird, but I remember I really wanted to find a way to collect the blood, DNA or the essence of several people that inspired me, in the hopes of creating a brand new person out of mixing them.”

Luna’s cat, which has been purring in her lap all this time, jumps and walks away. Maybe he's heard this story before. “I’m still fascinated by images of chromosomes and I’ve even considered recreating them by using the technique I was telling you about. It would be like combining the physical aspect of a human being and the spiritual and unique nature that is inherent to Ebru.” She beams at the thought of it. “Just imagine it! It would literally be the closest one could get to a human portrait, both body and soul represented.”

“For an artist, everything comes from individual experience. I express and represent what I know. It is also only natural that this individual experience turns global once there’s a lot of people looking at your art. It is unavoidable it becomes some sort of universal statement… but it’s still just that, a reflection of the artist’s life.”

In spite of Luna’s fierce determination to express herself and invite her audience to understand the world as she does, her art, which more often than not revolves around the female body, has been the target of harsh criticism. “Whenever I do something on female sexuality, I get criticised, even by other women! I think it is because what I was showing did not fit their idea of femininity… and that’s the problem. Femininity isn’t an idea, it’s an experience.”

Image courtesy of Luna Ece Bal

It isn’t the first time Luna finds herself disagreeing with the general opinion surrounding female identity. From the feeling of rebellion that made her want to reclaim the word “Witch”, to her belief that kindness among women can change the world, Luna keeps on creating beautiful pieces to remind her audience of the importance of accepting one’s nature, of nurturing one’s inner world. “It is something I’ve seen both in Paris and in Turkey.” She says. “Instead of helping and empowering each other, it is as if it came more naturally to people to fight and bully… but that’s all a result of a taught fear of being gentle, of being soft.”

For the first time since we started talking, Luna seems sad. “We shouldn’t be afraid of being kind.” Does she think it is still hard for the public to associate softness with strength? She shrugs. “Maybe, but I think it’s a lazy conclusion, to be honest.” Her eyes recover her natural glow, and she finishes: “Take glass, for example. Glass seems gentle and delicate. You can break it, for sure… but it will cut you and it will make you bleed if you do so.” She smiles. “People ought to remember that, whenever they assume a woman’s gentleness is a sign she isn’t strong or powerful!”

Article written for Sabat Magazine

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