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A secret art library

A secret art library

It was the first time that most of us could visit the Research Library of the Royal Academy of Arts, a secret place on the second floor of the building, far from the hectic circulation of visitors flocking into the Manet exhibition on show. Small and intimate, the Research Library of the RA is the oldest institutional fine arts library in the United Kingdom, serving the needs of Royal Academicians, students and scholars for over 200 years.

RA librarian Nick Savage explained how happy he was to have an artist such as Güler Ates using the space to produce a series of work.


Güler Ates was born in 1977 in Eastern Turkey, and has lived and worked in London for the past 15 years. A graduate from the Royal College of Art with an MA in Printmaking, she is currently a Digital Print Tutor at the Royal Academy Schools. Her work can be found in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s print collection and was recently shown in the 2012 Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy as well as exhibitions in London, Amsterdam, Istanbul and Mumbai.

This artist has created a series of photographs taken in the Library, using one of her models entirely covered by a variety of delicate materials such as lace and silk.

“Monument” (2013) 100x81cm

The model was present while we talked to the artist. She let us experience the delicacy of the material used and explained how she performed with the veil to allow Güler to capture her body surrounded by the magnificent books displayed in the room. During the performance she was unaware of the significance of being fully veiled. The artist explained her preparation and the creative process. The library was in full operation during the creation, and a particular moment of the day was chosen to play with the natural light. Technical problems were part of the creative process: how could the model hear and understand what the artist was suggesting to her from the other side of the room while she was inside a veil and off the ground?

“Passage” (2013) 100x67cm

The result is brilliant. The stillness of the old heavy books contrasts with the movement and lightness of the veil.  A hint of Middle Eastern exoticism is integrated into a Victorian set. The colour and the light embody and follow the figure, lost among the extraordinary books. Fascinated by the old masters, Güler chose colours from Renaissance paintings for the veils. As she explained, this is a way to connect Eastern and Western civilizations, one of her recurrent themes. She reminded us that the pigment used in Renaissance colour palettes was first developed by Persians in Afghanistan.

Once I was in the book-42x46cm-2013
“Once I was in the Book” (2013) 42x46cm

Cross-cultural themes are omnipresent in the artist’s work as well as the place of female identity in the current society of Turkey, her country of origin.

Güler told the audience in which context she came across the RA Library: “I visited the RA Library for the first time to research Lord Leighton’s drawings and sketches in 2009 for my residency at the Leighton House Museum in 2010.” In some Lord Leighton’s (the president of the RA from 1879-1896) sketchbooks, The artist recalls, “I saw images of veiled women, which he drew during his Algeria trip. They struck me as exotic images and stayed with me for a long time.” She showed us some of these remarkable drawings.

The exhibition Books of Dust can be seen at the Gallery Café in the Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly until 24 April 2013. For more information, see