Defne Ayas (b.1976) is currently the Director of Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam, where she oversees an exhibition and publication programme devoted to contemporary artists, writers, and curators from across the globe.
Since her arrival in 2012, she has conceived, commissioned, curated and organized long-term projects, group exhibitions and solo projects, including Kunsthalle for Music by Ari Benjamin Meyers (2017-2018), Öğüt & Macuga by Ahmet Öğüt and Goshka Macuga (2017), The Ten Murders of Josephine by Rana Hamadeh (2017), The Music of Ramon Raquello and his Orchestra by Eric Baudelaire (2017), WERE IT AS IF by Bik Van der Pol (2016), Relational Stalinism by Michael Portnoy (2016), three-part Art in the Age of… series (with focus on energy and raw materials, asymmetric warfare and planetary computation) (2015), Bit Rot by Douglas Coupland (2015), Character is Fate by Willem de Rooij (2015), Moderation(s) by artist Heman Chong (with Spring, Hong Kong, 2012-2014); Dai Hanzhi: 5000 Artists (with UCCA, Beijing, 2014); The Humans – a theatrical play by writer and artist Alexandre Singh – and its monthly summits Causeries (2012-2013); the open archive and collection Tulkus 1880 to 2018by artist Paola Pivi (with Castello di Rivoli and Arthub Asia, 2013-2018), Blueprints by Qiu Zhijie (2012) as well as the award-winning exhibition The Temptation of AA Bronson (2013), amidst others. In 2013, she launched WDWReview.org, together with Adam Kleinman as its Founding Editor.
Ayas has worked on a number of biennial projects such as: curator of the Pavilion of Turkey in the 56th International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale; co-curator the 6th Moscow Biennale ACTING IN A CENTER IN A CITY IN THE HEART OF THE ISLAND OF EURASIA; co-curator of the 11th Baltic Triennale; co-curator of the Istanbul and Bandung city pavilions as part of the Intercity Project of the 9th Shanghai Biennale. Ayas also served as a curatorial advisor to the 8th Shanghai Biennale (China), and as a publication advisor to the 8th Gwangju Biennale (South Korea) in 2010.
Ayas has been a curator of PERFORMA, the biennial of visual art performance of New York, where she curated numerous projects and programs with an international roster of acclaimed artists, architects, and writers; while overseeing biennial’s consortium relations with more than fifty arts organizations in the city.
Prior to joining Witte de With in 2012, Ayas lived in Shanghai, China and co-founded Arthub Asia – an Asia-wide active research and production initiative (with Davide Quadrio) (2007). Prior to joining Arthub Asia and Performa, she was the Public Programs Coordinator of New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, especially artists presentations and critical debates relating to contemporary art and new media. (2003-2005) Ayas is the founding co-curator (with Neery Melkonian) of Blind Dates Project – an artistic platform that is dedicated to tackling what remains of the peoples, places and cultures of the Ottoman Empire (1299-1923).
She is a Supervisory Board member of the Rijksakademie (Amsterdam) and Sabanci Museum (Istanbul); a member of Prince Claus Fund Awards; a director of Tällberg Foundation (Stockholm), an advisory board member to Jan Van Eyck Academy (Maastricht), Collectorspace (Istanbul), SAHA (Istanbul), Protocinema (Istanbul), Art Review Asia (Beijing) LEAP (Shanghai); and a curator at large of Spring Workshop (Hong Kong).