With 10 Events A Year of Culture-and-Arts in Istanbul
It’s been almost a tradition to make assessments over the past year when the new one is approaching. We try to re-energize for the new beginnings as if the historically determined first day of the calendar coincides with the cosmic time. Not only our minds get busy with various evaluations, thoughts and calculations, it is as such in December that friends set their in-group discussion agendas. Preparing summaries of the passing year, making lists and sharing wishes and action plans about the forthcoming year in diverse media, such as journals, magazines and blogs, in accordance with the public identity, claim and spirit of the medium, refer to the collective nature of such assessment practices.
Evaluating the year 2015 in Turkey and the regional context the country is bounded in terms of the human and political catastrophies happened is not what this essay aims to do. Keeping in mind all these, though, I am going to share here a list of culture-and-art events throughout the year which made us breath, became an opportunity to meet with our loved ones and to cheer up together for at least a little piece of time.
Focusing on the space of culture-and-art in Istanbul in 2015 through my own experiences, my purpose in this essay is twofold. First is to keep a record of those events and venues that artlovers in Istanbul might want to note into their 2016 schedules. Even if it’s impossible to create a representative list out of countless events, simultaneously open to visitors and in a variety of branches like exhibition, fair, screening, play, concert and performance, I hope contributing into the follow up lists of art wanderers with the 10 articles below. Second, I would like to highlight that feature of culture-and-art events which enables inter-personal and -cultural contacts on the one hand, and endows our daily states of thinking, learning and questioning with a vivid ground and material, on the other.
Let’s start then!
1- One Hundred Years of Love. The Affair between Film and Audience in Turkey, Istanbul Modern, September 2014-January 2015
One Hundred Years of Love, dealt with a century old history of cinema in Turkey, was one of the initial and unforgettable events of 2015. The exhibition was composed of hundreds of movie posters, booklets, magazines and newspaper advertisements on cinema as well as of the black-and-white photographs of film audience and movie houses. All these enabled an experience which was nostalgic, in a strange way, to the times we had not yet born. Among things the exhibition reminded us, the movie house, Emek Sineması, that we couldn’t prevent from being destructed under the cover of renovation, and the oppressive apparatus of power that makes itself felt most by prohibiting the distribution and screening of films (look below to Article 4), we left Karaköy worried and hopeful about cinema of Turkey.
2- Joan Miró. Women, Birds, Stars, Sakıp Sabancı Museum, September 2014-March 2015
Obvious in its name, the exhibition focused on the representations of women, birds and stars by Miró, well-known name of the 20th century Catalan painting. A wide collection consisted of artist’s paintings, printworks and sculptures was presented to viewers. Brought from Spain by Sakıp Sabancı Museum, the collection was so integral and rich that one could easily recognize Miró’s unique style after having visited this exhibition.
3- Cecil Beaton. Portraits, Pera Museum, May-July 2015
One of the most appealing photography exhibitions of 2015 was Portraits by Cecil Beaton. Although I went to Pera Museum to see certain works of Grayson Perry, who criticizes art from inside on subjects like class, religion and sexuality, I felt impressed more by the portraits of Beaton. It was a nice selection of black-and-white photographs, from the 1920s to 1970s, of movie stars, artists and writers that Beaton, a costume and scene designer at the same time, positioned within extraordinary frames. 
4- Documentarist: 8th Istanbul Documentary Days, Bakur (North), Şişli Kent Kültür Merkezi, June 2015
The most controversial movie screening of the year was that of Bakur (North), directed by Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu. The premiere of the film had originally been scheduled to the ‘‘out-of-competition’’ section of the 34th Istanbul Film Festival; however, the Ministry of Culture intervened into the festival program and prohibited its screening, reasoning that the film lacked necessary legal documents. This decision by the Ministry was perceived as censorship and, as a reaction, many other producers and directors withdrew from the festival. Around one hundred cinema professional, including Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Erden Kıral, Pelin Esmer and Onur Ünlü, signed a declaration and called for solidarity against censorship of films by the state. The screening of Bakur was realized two months later within the program of Documentarist: 8th Istanbul Documentary Days. Thousands of people filled every possible space in the theatre and I was among the audience on the floor with difficulty to breath. The significance and success of the documentary overwhelmed the compelling process of watching though. And questions, instead of answers, remained in minds.
5- Frànçois and the Atlas Mountains, French Institute of Culture in Istanbul, June 2015
Open air concerts in the beautiful summer season of Istanbul should be indicated in the list. I strongly recommend following monthly bulletins of the French Institute of Culture so that you will be informed about various activities the Institute hosts or helps to get organized. France-based researchers, academicians, writers, artists and music bands come throughout the year by this initiative and the majority of the events is both satisfactory and free-of-charge. Frànçois and the Atlas Mountains is popular among urbanite French youth as long as we learned from the crowd of its French expat funs. The band plays mostly French and rarely English songs with electronic beats and melancholic style. One possible result of this is to sink into a temporary depression, notably if listened in the accompany of wine. I’m not sure if the group would come again in 2016 but certainly advise keeping in touch with the Institute.
6- Ways to See Things in Cinema, Yalçın Savuran, Akbank Art, May-June 2015
This series of cinema workshops were held on a periodical basis in Akbank Art Beyoglu. I attended to the very last session in which Yalçın Savuran, the lecturer, examined the cinematic representations of Romany people through different films. Following a brief introduction about Romany history, he discussed how Romany people and music, migration, statelessness, borders and language become intertwining issues in the films by Andrei Tarkovsky, Tony Gatlif and Emir Kusturica. The workshops continue in the new season, still on Fridays at 7 p.m.
7- Artinternational, Haliç Congress Center, September 2015
Resonance of Silence, Ahmad Morshedloo, 2015, Assar Art Gallery
With its third edition in 2015, Artinternational, the international contemporary art fair, was so vast and attractive that we found very hard to cover the whole exhibition area. And we were only a minor group in comparison to over 30 thousand visitors of the fair that hosted 87 galleries and more than 400 pieces of art from 27 countries. The press news informed us that during the three days the fair was open, artwork sales as voluminous as 30 million dollars realized. Alongside worldwide known Andy Warhol, Grayson Perry, Joan Miró and Banksy, a Turkey-based world renown artist, Taner Ceylan also participated to the event with a couple of hyper-realistic works from his ‘‘Golden Age’’ collection. A substantial function of the fair was to present young artists from Turkey to the global contemporary art circles.
8- How Did We Get Here, SALT Beyoğlu, SALT Galata, September-November 2015
Focusing on Turkey’s recent past in relation to pop culture elements and social movements, the exhibition granted us with useful intellectual tools to question the country’s actual state of affairs. By virtue of countless archival material from the period between 1980-1993, such as magazines, films, photographs and videos, it was a prosperous visual interrogation about the basis of the neoliberal economic and social project in which we suffer today. At SALT Galata, we saw that following the 1980 coup, even children’s books were taken within the scope of the military regime’s practices of seizure and ban over books as part of a greater oppressive politics towards any kind of opponent activity and representation. Sneering was the only immediate reaction. At SALT Beyoğlu, there was a great bunch of photographs from daily life and city space of the period that were all transformed into a field of political struggle by civil society, whereas legal politics were busy with forming a pacified society of consumption. In addition to this, pop culture elements like cinema, pop and ‘‘arabesque’’ icons and women’s magazines of the 1980s constituted an important section of the exhibition. No doubt How Did We Get Here was one of the outstanding events of the year for the success it attained in answering its principal question.
9- Dolu Düşün Boş Konuş [Kvetch], Oyun Atölyesi, 2014-2015
Translated from its original by Haluk Bilginer, the play manifests how ridiculous we are when we build our existence upon silence, avoidance and delay as costs of socialization and becoming a civilized individual. To the extent that the play tackles with issues like our inner voice, words we suppress before expression and our anxieties that block communication, it also questions the possibilities and possible outcomes of breaking off such a permanent state of existing. At a point that we can describe in an old-fashioned way ‘‘didactic,’’ the old woman replies to her son-in-law’s complaints about high taxes: ‘‘Did they ask our consent when founding the state!’’ Thanks to a never-falling tempo along the two acts and skillful acting, watching this version of Kvetch was very pleasurable. A little ending note I add for the theatre, Oyun Atölyesi, that is a nice excuse to cross over the bridge to Kadıköy for those like me who inhabit the European side.
10- 14th Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV), September-November 2015
Formed under the title Saltwater: A Theory of Thought Forms, the 14th Istanbul Biennial set the biennial followers on a compelling physical and mental journey due to over 30 venues of exhibition, spread to both sides of Istanbul and the Princes’ Islands, as well as its theoretical framework that was drafted and announced by the curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. As Christov-Bakargiev stated, Saltwater is chosen to be a reminder of Turkey’s historical wounds that have so far been ignored and, for exactly because of an ongoing ignorance, remained unhealed. In parallel with this theme, it’s been meaningful to pick up the building of the Armenian weekly Agos and the Hrant Dink Foundation as a biennial venue. The building, Anarad Hığutyun, is recently renovated and locates in Harbiye, and can perfectly said to be a memory space in itself. I admit that the life-size animal sculptures of the Argentinian artist, Adrián Villar Rojas, situated on the seashore of Buyukada, seemed pretty weird at the first glance. When I subsequently read that they referred to the lifeless bodies of refugees on the Mediterranean coasts, the piece made sense to me. As a necessary part of the route towards the seashore, passing by the house in which Trotsky resided for a time after he had been sent into exile from the Soviet Union filled my mind with different thoughts. Lastly, I note the sound installation A Room of Rhythms-Otopark by Cevdet Erek in my list of biennial favorites. I knew and loved Erek for his contributions into the sound design and music of recent significant domestic films, Sivas by Kaan Müjdeci and Abluka by Emin Alper. In his biennial piece that was open to visit in a car park in Tophane district, he played with the space constituting functions of sound and silence. Thinking of the urban renewal project that will destroy the whole district in a close future, I am more stuck on the idea of how silence would be disruptive as much as it’s constitutive.
Ending my own list of the best culture-and-art events of the year in Istanbul, I wish 2016 to be an affluent year for art wanderers. I wish, and perhaps to a greater extent, that the social atmosphere that surround art in Turkey would fill us not with a feeling of being drown, but of being alive.