Embracing Darkness: Dilek Baykara

Embracing Darkness: Dilek Baykara

Words Sophie Weiner

We first met Dilek Baykara, a now 23-year-old Brooklyn-based artist, when she was attending the School of Visual Arts for Illustration and living in a dingy basement in Bed Stuy. Her room was painted red and black, with a strange tangle of black pipes rising to the ceiling. What was most noticeable about Dilek at that time (other than the metal constantly blasting from her room) was she was rarely seen. She was almost always in her room, drawing. You could go for several days without running into her, and when you finally caught a glimpse of the piece she’d been working on, it was astonishing. There is such a mysterious power to her work, oozing a darkness she says has been with her since childhood. But it’s not the faux-darkness of trend-hopping goths, or of shock-value Internet art. Her work is as technically proficient as it is evocative, made up of thousands of hand-inked lines that together tell stories of witchcraft, of demons, of all-powerful, mystical women.

Her skillfulness has made her work accessible to people outside of the metal scene where she first felt at home. She’s done a skate deck for Brooklyn skateshop KCDC and gig posters for bands as diverse as Eyehategod and Swans. The other day, we talked to Dilek about what she’d most love to do in the future, her relationship to the metal scene, and her changing identity as an artist.

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Mass Appeal: There is an obvious element of darkness in your work and in the music you love. Where does this darkness come from? Is it something you’ve felt your whole life?

Dilek Baykara: I think it’s just always followed me my whole life. Anything that’s dark and mysterious I’ve always been attracted to. My parents would take me to scary movies when I was younger and I would not sleep for days and obsess over scenes after. When I would go to Muslim day school there would be pictures of Mohammed but his face would be on fire, and I’d be like “Why is his face on fire?? Is he burning??”  I’ve just never been attracted to flowers or pretty things. Just shit that I don’t understand, dark, weird stuff.

MA: How do you conceive of themes for your pieces? They’re so intricate, you must have to be really sure you want to go through with them.

DB: Recently I’ve just been sitting down and coming up with something. I basically draw it lightly and then render it with ink. There are times that I just start inking it right away, and then I can erase it, because I use a special type of paper that you can erase the ink off of it. It’s print making paper and it has a really soft tooth, so I use an electric eraser and it just pulls up the layer of paper. So it’s kind of a push and pull with me, if I fuck up I’m just like “oh well, I’ll just erase it,” but I try not to do that because that means I can’t color it if I really wanted to, because it damages the tooth of the paper.

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MA: How did you start collaborating with the skate company KCDC? What was your experience like working with them?

DB: I wanted to do a skate deck, and my boyfriend gave me their contact info, and they let me do it, which was amazing. I’d wanted to do it for so long because my favorite artists of that time, were the artists who’ve done work for Creature, really intricate, comic book type style. I really like when they have artists do work for them because I’m kind of fed up of the whole photo images on the bottom of decks or graphic design or phrases.

MA: What’s your relationship with skating?

DB: I have friends in this band Natur and they’re all really good skaters, which is cool. I have some friends who are photographers that photograph skaters. That’s pretty much as deep as it goes.

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MA: Most of your drawing are of women. How does femininity play into your work?

DB: Everything’s an extension of myself, so I always have to have a woman there. I’ll draw a man, but only if he’s interfering with the woman in the piece [Laughs]. As of recently, I’ll have a man if I have to have one, but they’re an accessory to the story I’m trying to tell.

MA: How has the experience of doing posters for bands you really like been?

DB: I think the best moment for me was when I did one for Swans, and I love them, so I was really excited. It took me so long to come up with an idea. I finally looked at the last setlist that they played, and I picked the song “Coward.” My poster is two cherubs stabbing each other, and the song is about innocence and love and backstabbing. I think I finished printing all of them that morning. And then I cut them and went straight over there [to the venue]. I met this guy, Thor, I forget what he plays but he’s in the band. He just hits a gong or something. He was super nice. I was there for sound check and I saw Michael [Gira] screaming at the bassist. He was like “NO, YOU HAVE TO DO IT LIKE THIS!!” and I was like, “Oh my god, I’m so scared. I should turn back now and just leave these here and walk out.” After he finished yelling at this guy for ten minutes he got off stage Thor introduced me to him, and all the sudden he switched, and was like “Oh, hi! Nice to meet you!” and I was like, what the fuck? I showed him the poster and he actually stared at it which was so cool. Usually when I give a band their posters they don’t pay much attention. But he really looked at it for a minute and then he just said, “My sentiments exactly.”

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MA: What is it like being a woman of color in the metal community? Do you notice it or think about it?

DB: I don’t even know what community I belong to at this point, honestly. I kinda just want to stick to posters. I will say that it’s a weird situation to be in, because there are more bands with women now, and that’s really good, I’m happy about it. Sometimes when people talk about the frontwoman or say, “All girl band” I’m just like, why do you need to say that? Why can’t you just say band? And there are times when people don’t say it, but everyone just thinks it. It’s hard to express how that makes me feel.

 The first time I felt like I wasn’t weird was when I found some metal band in Turkey and we were talking and I found out there was a huge community there. It’s just music, and this is America; unless you’re Native American you’re from somewhere else.

MA: What are your plans for the next year?

DB: Right now I’ve put together a bunch of mailers, and I’ve changed my portfolio on my site. I’d like to do stuff for books and magazines. I’m actually going to start painting pretty soon. I plan to put out a zine. It’s slow movements but that’s what I’d like to see happening.

MA: If you could do anything, what would you most love to do?

DB: What I’d really like to do is just be in a show where I have a piece that’s just enormous, like, huge, like the size of a wall. I’ve always wanted to make pieces that big and overwhelming. When I go to shows, I don’t like small pieces, you have to walk up to it and analyze it, but when there’s a huge piece, it’s like, you experience it. Something that big, it’s almost like it talks to you. There’s really something special about it.

Dilek’s next show opens on March 8th at Last Rites gallery in Chelsea.