Defne Ayas (b.1976) is the Director of Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam, where she oversees the exhibition and publication programs devoted to established and emerging artists, writers, and curators from across the globe.
Since her arrival in 2012, she has conceived, commissioned and (co)-curated long-term projects, group exhibitions and solo projects, including 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 2018 by 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 Chief 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, since its inception in 2005 (Associate Curator 2005-2008; Curator 2009-2012, Curator-at-Large, 2012-until present). At Performa, Ayas organized projects and programs with an international roster of acclaimed artists, architects, and writers; while overseeing biennial’s architecture, writing and print programs and its consortium relations.
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 Board member of the Rijksakademie (Amsterdam); a curatorial board member of PAC (Milan), an advisory board member to Jan Van Eyck Academy (Maastricht), Collectorspace (Istanbul), Sabanci Museum (Istanbul), SAHA (Istanbul), Protocinema (Istanbul) and Art Review Asia (Beijing); and a curator at large of Spring Workshop (Hong Kong).