Sunday, November 02, 2008


It is always difficult to sum up the developments in art scenes and come up with a precise panorama.  The most precise observation is that the content and the form of art and art making has changed since the beginning of the 1990s. The change is very much related to the socio-political and ideological alterations (alterations and not transformations because of the recurring instances of the one-time political ideologies). While the gradual evaporation of the most solid factor, namely the nation-state ideology is being replaced by a pious national ideology, in tune with the neo-liberal freedom and permissiveness, the micro-level socio-political issues float up.  Thus the alteration reflected itself as completely free and unrestricted declarations of macro or micro-level individual statements through art-works. As the art-works of today are far from being hermetic and metaphorical, one can say that art making is serving as a tool of a neo-anarchist attitude and proclamation. The dissident individual utilizes art making in order to have a visible presence within the socio-political panorama of his/her territory.  However, this panorama, with on the one side nearly fully occupied by the politicians and bureaucrats and on the other side by the business people, who in general are not so interested in contemporary art production, opens for the artist a new arena of struggle. In the underdeveloped local art markets of the region, the artists are exposed to make extra efforts for their economic welfare. In most of the countries around Turkey, the economies are in difficulty and the infrastructures of culture industries are absent or inadequate.

Even if the blockbuster exhibitions are full of photography and video works, painting is still the most demanded form of art-work in the local art market and artists are keen to show their painting skills, because painting—or the handmade art work—is still a signal for the public to discern whether the artist is professional or not.   Today’s young generation is reflecting its ideas, concepts, interpretations, criticism mainly through painting, photography and video, but also through artistic and cultural events which they organize particularly without a curating hand in it.

Throughout the 1990s, the urgency of the artist was “identity” in political, ethnic, gender-oriented locations with references to their origins or traditions. Since 2000, while a group of artists of Turkey are running after more global pursuits, producing works for international curators and audiences by following the concept and strategy trends, another group is still dealing with the local issues and problems. Sometimes, the artworks look like newspaper headlines with pictures or propaganda posters dealing with daily local politics.

Photography with all its possibilities of true or false representations, with its illusive appearances or with its possibilities of monumentality is being utilized by almost all artists. Documentary photography is the basis of socio-political artworks as well. Yet, the ambiguous issue in photographic works is the relation of the image to the conceptual framework of the artist’s manifestation, or the already worldwide consumed criteria that are repetitively being employed for the impact of the photographic image. Convincing and persuasive photographic work comes with its theoretical and philosophical background which can only be mapped out in the expanded oeuvre of the artist.

Regional exhibitions, or exhibitions that unite artists from neighboring countries that have past and present political and cultural relations are no doubt a fertile soil for new productions and events. When I was curating together with Magda Guruli the first comprehensive show of Georgian artist in Istanbul during the 10th Istanbul Biennale, I indicated that we have to admit the weakness and the absence of communication and knowledge in the relationship between the culture and art worlds of Turkey and those of the Soviet world during the Cold War period and that presently we (mostly curators and museum directors) are making a special effort to fill the vacuum created by the apathy between 1950-1990 via cultural and artistic activities.

In the 1990s, when the discovery of the other was the fundamental quest, West European curators and museum directors have united the artists of East Europe, Balkans, Greece and Turkey in eclectic group shows. Looking back to those exhibitions, there is no doubt that they have motivated the artists to democratic openness and the local art scenes to acknowledge international criteria. The encounter of the artists of the onetime polarized cultures created a new synergy in transforming the theoretical, philosophical and conceptual fundaments of contemporary art. The macro-events have prepared the field for in depth encounters or i.e. the empty parts of the macro-picture can only be embroidered meticulously through a more profound collaboration, which I believe Bahcesaray exhibition will be an interesting model.

Beral Madra, March 2008

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