Fear of God and Reciprocal Visits

Istanbul Off-Spaces – Independent Art Spaces in Dialogue
Fear of God and Reciprocal Visits

Irmgard Berner
© Qantara.de 2009

Istanbul’s alternative artists have begun creating important niches for a dialogue on society: in independent art spaces and beyond the established art scene. Irmgard Berner visited the exhibition “Istanbul-Off-Spaces” in Berlin Kreuzberg

Bild vergrössern Parallel worlds brought together: “Special Days and Weeks – Istanbul” from the project “5533” which was founded by Nancy Atakan, Volkan Aslan and Marcus Graf in 2008 | Their names are “Hafriyat”, “atilkunst” and “Apartman Project” and they are independent art spaces in Istanbul. “Hafriyat,” which means “excavation,” was one of the first and is still one of the most important non-commercial project spaces in Turkey. In recent years, there have been more and more of these initiatives in Istanbul, a city that previously had as good as no free market for art. The new projects are a reaction by artists and curators to the conditions of the institutionalised art world – and they are reacting with growing confidence. Artist groups are engaging in intensive dialogue, responding to the changes in Turkish society and civil rights laws. For a short time, a gallery in Berlin, the Bethanien art space in the inner-city suburb of Kreuzberg, is providing them with a very prominent platform for their projects – as part of the city’s longstanding partnership with Istanbul.

The message of the “Mayhas”

Bild vergrössern “Get to the point!” – the Turkish idiom “Sadede Gel” shines in the Berlin night between the towers of the Bethanien art space | The Turkish phrase “Sadede Gel” is spelled out in lights strung between the two towers of the Bethanien building. The artists translate it as “Get to the point”. The many people of Turkish origin who are the building’s neighbours will be familiar with messages of this type, called “mayhas” and displayed between minarets during Ramadan in Muslim countries. Mayhas were once a powerful means of communication for religious or moral messages.

Yet, through this traditional form of communication, the artist group “atilkunst” is not only broadcasting a common saying into public space, but also launching a signal to society. And it is the ironic overture to the multiple dialogues which are taking place in the exhibition.

One aspect of the dialogue which these Turkish galleries are involved in is artists getting together in Istanbul and learning from one another. They combine their production forces and harness their collective intelligence against the artistic establishment with all its crippling constraints. Important platforms have emerged from this movement in recent years. The art itself acts as a spark that ignites a much larger engine – these spaces, small as they may be, often evolve into meeting spaces for academics, architects, urban planners, artistic initiatives and organisations.

Boldly working against the grain in a repressive climate

It’s their counter-ideas for an interdisciplinary presentation of art, offering artists a chance to go against the grain in the still repressive atmosphere of the Turkish unitary state, which are now on show at the Bethanien art space.

Bild: “Kemalism is a way of worship”, Poster, Hakan Akçura 2007; © Hakan Akçura

Bild vergrössern Getting away from conservative approaches to art and social taboos: the artists group Hafriyat has been organises events for ten years, among them exhibitions of creative posters | Visitors enter via a broad corridor, flanked by a cosmos of images on the subject of “fear of God”. Graphic art and written messages relate to the fear which has been created among the people and used since the dawn of time in order to hold on to power. This poster collection dates from 2007 and is from the artist group “Hafriyat”.

The group runs a small venue in Istanbul’s harbour quarter Karaköy, tucked between car repair shops and brothels, out of reach of the conservative and commercial art scene dominated by banks and institutions. Membership fees and support from the neighbourhood pharmacies, nightclubs and production companies cover the group’s running costs, helping them to maintain their independence.

Workshops and performances

The Berlin exhibition illustrates the goals of these independent initiatives and how they work – in comparison to publicly funded art spaces in Germany – using pictures, texts, videos and installations. The “Apartment Project”, founded by the video artist Selda Asal in 1999, works with workshops and performances. Asal and Serdar Ateser have already worked on a music video project with pupils at a Berlin school. Their current piece in the exhibition is called “Reciprocal Visit” and involves ten Turkish artists.

The ten artists reflect on their visits to Georgia, Armenia and Iran, chosen precisely because of the political differences between them and Turkey. The film sequences reveal the explosive political background: for example, Turkish citizens are banned from entering neighbouring Armenia, and vice versa. The artists use the custom of “reciprocal visits”, which has traditionally supported neighbourly relations in these countries and the Arab world, as a cultural counter-measure, thereby overcoming entry bans and border walls.

The up-and-coming group “Kurye” defines itself as a video organisation. Its concept focuses on the image, in permanent circulation and accessible everywhere and at any time.

Platforms for political content

Bild vergrössern 620 videos by 250 artists from 32 countries: The Kurye Archive puts on international festival, film series, audiovisual performances, as well as exhibitions | The group works with an archive system, organises video events on specific themes, international festivals, exhibitions – including online exhibitions – and acts as an agency. The Kurye archive now houses 620 video works by 250 artists from 32 countries; and this impressive collection continues to grow.

The other side of the dialogue behind the exhibition is the city partnership between Berlin and Istanbul, now in existence for twenty years. Berlin has worked hard at maintaining contacts with the few existing artist groups, presenting a very different picture from the usual distorted images of Turkey – a fact that can’t be rated too highly.

Unlike in Berlin, Istanbul’s project spaces are not launching pads for artists’ careers, but spaces for action and platforms for political content, taboo subjects such as gays and lesbians or “woman and the city”. And sometimes all that it takes is a shop window, as the space “Artik mekan” proves in just over two square metres, run by the artists Gonca Sezer and Yesim Agaoglu in an old tea house also in Karaköy. Artists can “get to the point” in the tiniest of spaces.

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About omosis

Selected exhibitions, activities: 2013 Artist presentation: "Being in Sweden, being an immigrant, being an artist", Adaevi, Museum of the Princes' Islands, İstanbul, Turkey "Yersiz: Kader Birliği", Mardin, Kızıltepe, Turkey “Ja jag vill leva jag vill dö”, Tegen 2, Stockholm "Vilken tur! Himlen omfamnar oss!" / "What luck! The sky embraces us!" / "Ne şans! Gökyüzü hepimizi sarıyor!" Photography Exhibition, Ideas and Innovation Fair, Stockholm "Milat" Exhibition for Hrant, Getronagan Lisesi'nden Yetişenler Derneği, Harbiye / Rumeli Han C blok 6.Kat - Beyoğlu, İstanbul 2012 Migration Connections Project 2012 Exhibition, Museum of the Princes' Islands, İstanbul, Turkey Edinburgh Middle Eastern Film Festival, Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK Artist Talking and Screening, Agent Ria, Still Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK 2011 Ars retorica, Hall the university library of Paris 8 – Saint Denis, France The Exhibition on the 20th Anniversary of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey: Where Fire Has Struck, DEPO Istanbul, Turkey 2010 PAI 2010-2011 in Thebes, Conference Center of Thebes, Greece International Media Arts Festival Videfesta’10: Archive Fever, Goethe Institute, Ankara, Turkey Temps D'Images Portugal 2010 Festival Film Award for Films on Art section "From childhood to police station" Exhibition, Free Expantion Platform, Istanbul, Turkey HEP Iran screening, Sazmanab Project, Tehran, Iran AthensArt 2010 contemporary art exhibition, Athens, Greece PAI 2010 contemporary art exhibition, Samothrace, Greece "Thistles of Sazak" screening and exhibition, 7th Karaburun Festival, Izmir, Turkey Distance Festival, London, UK "Artist Cinema", Art Beijing, China Over trubled water, Tegen 2, Stockholm, Sweden Ankara International Film Festival, "Video: Spaces of Memory", Ankara, Turkey Direct Channell, Canakkale' Turkey !F Istanbul Film Festival 2010 online program: See it yourself (This village)' Istanbul, Turkey HEP Screening, AFA Beijing, China Tornavideo, Tamirhane, Ankara, Turkey 2009 “Projected Visions: 35 years of Turkish video art” exhibition Meeting Europe - Istanbul, Wacken Exhibition Centre, Strasbourg, France HEP (Human Emotion Project) Screening, AFA @ Portuguese Bookshop Gallery, Macau, China co-exhibition "Dirty Story", BM Suma, Istanbul, Turkey HEP (Human Emotion Project) Screening, Caldas-da-Rainha, Portugal HEP Screening, Berlin, Germany "Thistles of Sazak", art performance, Karaburun, Izmir, Turkey "Istanbul-Off-Spaces" co-exhibition, Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien, Berlin, Germany co-exhibition "Interzone:Nation", Gallery Galzenica, Zagreb, Croatia HEP Screening, LaSala in Cigunuela, Spain HEP screening, Melbourne, Australia "Varning för klämrisk", Solo Exhibition, Tegen 2, Stockholm, Sweden to Ankara International Film Festival, Ankara, Turkey 2008 1st Int. Roaming Biennial of Tehran, Berlin, Germany "Hög på Golvet" group exhibition at Tegen 2, Stockholm, Sweden 1st Int. Roaming Biennial of Tehran, Istanbul, Turkey International Mail Art Project 2008, Conceptual Continuity Supermarket 2008 Art Fair with Tegen 2, Stockholm, Sweden 2007 "Fear of god" co-exhibition, Hafriyat Karakoy, Istanbul, Turkey "Bodrum Film Festival", Bodrum, Mugla, Turkey "Jag, min husses hund" group exhibition, Tegen 2, Stockholm, Sweden "Nightcomers" project in the 10th Biennial of Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey Scope NYC [PAM], Scope Art Fair, Lincoln Center, New York, USA 2006 co-exhibition "Labyrint" in Botkyrka Konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden Artist's "Sann dialog" ("Real dialogue") contemporary art activity has been started. Stockholm, Sweden Artist sent his videoperformance named as "Öppet brev till Migrationsverket" to Migrationsverket ("Open letter to Sweden Migration Board") 51', Stockholm, Sweden 2004 Artist given his art-object named as "För uppehållsstillstånd" to Migrationsverket ("For residence permission"), Istanbul, Turkey co-exhibition "Bridge from east to west", BBK Karlsruhe, Germany 2003 co-exhibition of AIAP "Hal/iç" with work name the "Difficult sleep". Kadir Has University, Istanbul, Turkey 2002 co-exhibition "Arts Plastiques" in METU Spring Festival at METU Congre Center, Ankara, Turkey co-exhibition "A travel into life" at Kargart, Istanbul, Turkey 2001 "Sometimes when I'm high, I watch TV", video performance screening, Dulcinea, Istanbul, Turkey Artist's "Solitudo" contemporary art activity has been started. A solo contemporary art exhibition with 210 participants: I want my mirrors. Dulcinea Istanbul, Turkey 2000 co-exhibition "Veritas Omnia Vincit", Istanbul, Turkey Artist's "I want my mirrors" contemporary art activity has been started, Istanbul, Turkey 1999 "2th Interbalcanic Symposium of Visual Arts" and co-exhibition, Samotrache/Greece 1998 "...self", solo exhibition. Dulcinea, Istanbul, Turkey co-exhibition "The Other", Istanbul, Turkey 1996 "Citypaintings", solo exhibition. Habitat II/NGO Forum '96 art activities, Istanbul, Turkey Publication of book of poems: "Limpin Bird" (Aksak Kus) (168 page, 81 poem, 81 picture), Istanbul, Turkey 1995 Fourth Biennial of Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey co-exhibition "Young Activity/Borders and Beyong", Istanbul, Turkey 1991 Short film maker and director, ("Everything is as it is", 24', 16 mm. Included in TRT's "Young Cinematographers" programme), Istanbul, Turkey

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