Istanbul Inn London: Explore Turkey In A New Cultural Exhibition

This weekend saw the launch of Istanbul INN London, a four-day showcase in the heart of Bloomsbury giving the general public a glimpse at the wide array of culture that Istanbul has to offer.

In a world where the West is becoming increasingly fascinated by the Middle East, many people are looking to learn more about the rich culture of the Islamic nations without having to subject themselves to any risk by visiting the countries directly. Having such a strong and growing tourism sector, Turkey seems to be the perfect halfway point between the elusive East and the comfortable West. The country has strong ties with the West and has been on the brink of joining the European Union since 1999, with the EU being Turkey’s leading import and export partner. Its tourism sector is booming, accounting for roughly 10% of Turkey’s GDP in 2009, meaning increasingly greater proportions of the global population are choosing to visit this part of the world to educate themselves in what it has to offer.

Istanbul INN London both compliments and fuels the desire to visit Turkey. It focuses on what is current and culturally exciting about the bustling city of Istanbul today, ranging from art to architecture, design, fashion and even food. What the visitor finds whilst walking through the gallery supersedes their expectations of what is happening in Turkey. The brightest and most creative of minds are working to make Istanbul into a hub for innovative art and design. A few pieces stood out to me, and hopefully speaking a little about each one will entice readers to visit this exhibition.

First of all, the Sancaklar Mosque by Emre Arolat Architects is a must-see, breaking through any preconceptions one may have about what a mosque looks like with their design situated in suburban Istanbul. More like a Richard Serra-esque art installation than a building with a dome and minarets, this design strips back the visuals of a Mosque and replaces it with pure purpose – a serene space in which to communicate with God. The building is barely visible from outside and is designed in harmony with its surroundings of a green area. Inside, the mosque is a large, cave-like space in which the attendee can be guaranteed peace in their thoughts and prayers.

Istanbul Inn London: Explore Turkey In A New Cultural Exhibition

Courtesy of Emre Arolat Architects

Next I come to the work of Firat Neziroglu, Turkish dancer and artist extraordinaire. What is most commendable about his work, alongside his very visible talent as a weaver, is his challenge of gender stereotypes. His work depicts a multitude of scenes, all rooted in a sense of joie de vivre, but are all communicated via the medium of tapestry weaving which is traditionally, in the Middle East, a very feminine role. Neziroglu, being a trained dancer as well as a talented weaver, sends a message out to the West about Turkey’s increasingly liberal mindset amidst its very conservative neighbours.

Istanbul Inn London: Explore Turkey In A New Cultural Exhibition

 Polyanna, Firat Neziroglu, 2012

The Istanbul INN London event will also be holding a series of talks, one of which was held in conversation with Tansa Mermerci Eksioglu, a prolific collector and a founder of SPOT. SPOT is an independent curatorial project founded by three women all experienced in their fields as actors within the art scene and market. In light of Turkey’s ever-strengthening relationship with the West, I took the opportunity to ask her a question:

Q: What are your thoughts on Turkey joining the EU and its effect on the content of Turkish art? Do you think that it will dilute any distinctive Middle Eastern influences?

A: Turkey is a unique country. Geographically, historically and strategically positioned between Europe and Asia, Turkey is an amalgam of the characteristics of both continents. Turkey’s culture and history has been built on this mix — I would call it the best of both worlds. Turkey’s firm and long standing culture and tradition identifies the Turkish mindset.  What most foreigners think and know of Turkey is the Turkish workers who have migrated to their countries decades ago. That can hardly give a glimpse of the idea and identity of Turkey. Thus, if there is any distinctive Middle Eastern influence, that is no more than the distinctive influence of Europe. I believe there is only a distinctive Turkish influence on the Turkish artist. Our upbringings and values; traditions and customs; heritage– all bring about the distinctive Turkish influence.

Having said all this, joining EU may have a slight effect on the content of Turkish art just because it may change the agenda. Otherwise, quite a number of Turkish artists live abroad, mostly in EU countries. The content of their art already consists of issues in and around Turkey as well as the world. The artist does not think he has physical or mental or psychological borders. His works involve cross border, global issues– issues that he feels strong about. For example, Şener Özmen is an artist who works and lives in Diyarbakır (east of Turkey). Özmen’s “Supermuslim” work is made up of 12 photographs where Özmen is wearing a superman costume and performing the Muslim ritual- namaz. About a quarter of the world population is Muslim. So the content is global. It matters to most Muslims. It is a cynical work. It has a global message. It is a political work that is timeless. 

So whether Turkey goes into EU or not, I believe, the Turkish artist will carry his distinctive past and Turkish qualities to his work and the content will be what he feels strong about.

The Istanbul INN London exhibition ends on Monday 15th April, with the day’s schedule involving a talk on Literature by Andrew Finkel and Elif Shafak.

Words: Paniz Gederi © ArtLyst 2013

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