Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Istanbul's Artistic Modern; Turkey's Islamics Artistic Past

"Nothing in the world can be as beautiful as the first moment that you see this Muslim capital city from miles away.  What you see as you approach Istanbul is beautiful beyond your wildest dreams.  Only when you see this view, you can understand the thrill offered by Eastern Cities."
-La Baronne Durand de Fontmagne, 1854

I happened out the other night for what was supposed to be an early evening.  I grabbed an interesting french fry and cheese sandwich, grilled together as toast and filled with ketchup, mayo, pickles and tomatoes- it was actually not bad, as if the whole was more than the sum of its parts.  I had planned on going to bed early, and went out to the Galata square to have a single beer with an Aussie lass in my dorm room.  The Galata square has a nightly carnival atmosphere with people sitting out drinking and music being played.  There was a bit of dancing going on, when a little scufle broke out and sent everyone scrambling.  It ruined the vibe (this is why we can't have nice things) but calmed back down.  I was talked into a hookah bar by another Aussie and a group of frenchmen.  We smoked melon nargila, and I chatted with a group of Free Syrians in town for a post-conf.  A beautiful Syrian girl welcomed me to Free Damascus (inshallah).

I slept late to clear out the jetlag.  I missed breakfast, but awoke at a point to grab lunch from the hostel.  The kitchen serves cheap meals throughout the neighborhood, and I dined on tomato-sauteed stringbeans with rice and a side of yogurt soup.  From there, I descended to the Istanbul Modern, the lovely new modern art museum on the banks of the Bosphurus in Karakoy.

The museum was fascinating, taking a survey of the lanscape of modern art in Turkey.  It delved into the cultural exchange that took place to bring impressionist art to Ottoman Turkey, both with sending Turkish artists abroad to Paris and bringing foreign artists to paint the Sublime Porte.  There was a group called the "1914 Generation," who were supported by the Ottoman Empire in their studies in Paris.  They returned and worked to combine the light, nature and colors of Ottomania in the impressionist style.  Impressionist art always makes me miss my grandmother.


The survey continued and dealt with Republican Turkey's experiments with modernism and cubism.  The museum discussed an arts society that was formed in 1929 called the Association of Independent Painters and Sculptors, who took their name from a similar french society.  In recognition of Turkey's new European focus, the society encouraged its members to introduce the arts currents swirling around Europe to Turkey, including a synthesis of German Expressionism, Cubism, Naturalism and Constructivism as they depicted a developing Turkey.

The exhibit continued with the "D Group" who rejected the academicism, naturalism and impressionism of the Association for a more cubist approach.  Cubism became the language of expressing Turkey's progress.  A later movement called the "Newcomers Group" rejected the the D Group and their "mindless" importation of Western arts, and argued for a focus on social issues and social contact.

There was an interesting passage on the relationship between the State, the Artist and Society:
"In an effort to build a modern nation, Republican Turkey began to reconstruct society at every level.  It launched projects that aimed to reorganize everything from agriculture  to law, economy to culture and language to civic responsibility.  Ataturk, together with a small number of bureaucrats, undertook to support the arts.  Both privately-owned banks and government agencies were encouraged to develop institutional collections.  The Republic was the sole decision maker in society; arts were no exception.  Republican Turkey tried to build a close relationship between the state, arts and society.
They did this by sponsoring the Galatasaray Exhibition in Ankara to try to bring new cultural life in the new capital in 1926.  In 1933, they supported the exhibition "Pictures of a Revolution" to showcase the effects of the Republican revolution on Turkish society.  Meanwhile from 1938-1943, the state supported "Homeland Tours" to send Turkish artists to different parts of the country.


As one who loves examining identity, I found it fascinating to see the role of the state in regard to the arts and using arts to foster identity.  Such a different conception from the Ottoman patrons of art, and such an interesting role in using the arts to cement the secular revolution.  Turkey's secular vs. religious identity still is being wrestled with today.

The exhibit meandered on through the decades, from the 1960s and 1970s, with the different focus on self-realism and abstract, up until the 1980s where artists began really rejecting the "mission civiltrice" of their role in regard to the Turkish state.  My question was whether this was borne out of the coups that had transpired.    The 1990s offered more interdisciplinary focus on arts in Turkey, and broke down the high culture focus and elite art to a general, more mass appeal.  To be honest, I actually found the descriptions of the era more interesting than the art itself.  I am not a lover of modern art, although done right I can appreciate it.  My tastes have always been a bit more classical.

I briefly napped in the park, then headed over to Sultanahmet to see the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum.  I swear that the air of Istanbul is perpetually perfumed with the smell of nargila smoke.  The museum itself was wonderful, much more my taste as I wandered through calligraphic flourishes and tiled masterpieces.  One thing I found quite cool was an Ummayad road marker:
"The slave of God, the Emir of the faithful, Abdul Malik, may God's mercy be upon him, erected this stone.  From Damascus to here is 109 miles."
Now that is an awesome roadmarker.  If only the governor of Mary Land put up such illustrious road signs...

Something that I knew but was reminded, at its height, the Ottoman Empire spanned three continents.  The exhibits included Seljuk and Ottoman beauties, engraved Qurans and lavish carpets, as well as an interesting ethnographic exhibit on life in Anatolia.

After I headed over to Haggia Sophia to meet Marc Thayer, the Education Director for American Voices.  He had a few hour sojourn in Istanbul before heading to Kurdistan, so I gave him a whirlwind tour.  I took him to the quay for fish sandwiches, before heading over for Efes Dark at the Hotel Anemon with its resplendent views. Some Iskender Kebap, and he was on his way to Erbil.

Later I met up with my friend Caro from the PD program, who was here in Istanbul with a fellowship of sorts.  Caro and I had been playing tag for the better part of a year.  When I was in LA, we couldn't quite connect; when she was in DC, I was away. I met her at her hotel, and it was kind-of funny.  She had been mentioning to her fellow fellows that she was meeting her friend (me), but then actually pointed out that we technically had never met.  So goes the social network connections and online-offline friends, of which I have a few.


1 comment:

Abba said...

re Online friends: Do you know the origin of my "DrBones"???