Home Art We will never be sufficiently complicit in the world of Turkish art

We will never be sufficiently complicit in the world of Turkish art

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Today the Art Journal reported that the The Istanbul Biennale rejected Defne Ayas as the next commissioner of their biannual event in favor of a much more autocratic commissioner currently working on projects in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, Iwona Blazwick.

Journalist Christina Ruiz reported that critics suggest Ayas’s selection of the Turkish pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale, featuring Turkish-Armenian artist Sarkis, was partly to blame. This is clearly the reason, even if no one wants to express it on the record, and I think it’s probably accurate based on what I’ve seen over the years on this topic. It cannot be underestimated the role that denial of the Armenian genocide has played in Turkish society, how the state has benefited from it, and how this impacts cultural industries, such as contemporary art.

As Ruiz points out, the 2015 Turkish Pavilion was marked by genocide denial. She writes:

A catalog accompanying the exhibition included an essay written by Rakel Dink, the widow of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, murdered in Istanbul in 2007. In his text, Dink made a passing reference to the “Armenian genocide” to describe the pain of his people. Following a complaint from the Turkish government, which denies the existence of the genocide, the catalog was withdrawn. Ayas and Sarkis then placed all the remaining copies in a coffin which Sarkis covered with colored glass and transformed into a sculpture (Respiro, 2015).

At the time, many of us, especially in the Armenian diaspora art community, were shocked to learn that the pavilion would remain open during the Venice Biennale. A minor but significant act of genocide denial prompted an esoteric work of art rather than a clear and open response. Sarkis, who, to be clear, most Armenians in the diaspora have never heard of, was part of this decision (I think most people mistakenly think that Armenians in Turkey are part of the diaspora, which is not the case, as they continue to stay in the country). of their ancestral lands.). It was all very disturbing.

The same year, the 2015 Istanbul Biennale was curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and I, for one, refused to attend the exhibition, seeing from afar how serious topics such as the Armenian Genocide were clearly obscured in a nation that has never been safe for indigenous minorities. Just two months before the opening of the show, Turkey had entered the third phase of the conflict led by the Turkish state to eradicate Kurdish insurgents in the same eastern provinces in which Armenians, Assyrians and Yazidis were massacred just a century before.

Christov-Bakargiev’s agenda was clear, since she never exploited the established and growing networks of Armenian artists, curators and intellectuals in the diaspora, but chose individual artists with few connections or connections. interest in the Armenian artistic community. The choice to essentialize Armenians as artists of Armenian origin, rather than working with a group of people from the Armenian community carrying out memory work linked to the genocide and our exile from what is currently the Republic of Turkey to the occasion of the centenary of the Armenian genocide, was a definitive political choice. All of this is also symptomatic of contemporary art, where minorities are represented by individuals, often unconnected to the community in whose name they claim to speak, who fail to engage in the current conversations raging in inside and outside these same communities and on subjects that have real importance. -global political consequences.

It would take too long to provide a full account of how the Turkish art world continues to benefit from genocide denialism, but it includes museums, such as the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, where Armenian intellectuals have were imprisoned during the infamous events of April 24, 1915. commemorated every year by Armenians and human rights defenders around the world. In 2015, I was in Istanbul during the commemorations of the centenary of the Armenian genocide with hundreds of other Armenians from the diaspora, descendants of genocide survivors. Our group was not even allowed to gather at the museum for fear of attacks from Turkish nationalists. Then there is the subject of Koç Holding, the main sponsor of the Istanbul Biennale. Koç Holding, the country’s largest company, is still led by the The Koç family, who made much of their money a century ago by purchasing Armenian properties confiscated during the genocide for pennies on the dollar. The wounds of the genocide, which Turkey continues to categorically denyare never seriously addressed and never seem to heal.

Now, the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV) doesn’t seem to think that Defne Ayas is sufficiently complicit in their genocide denial agenda, which is why they inserted the much more ethically challenged Blazwick, who is sure to lead a more plutocratic vision. friendly exhibition.

To underline what Turkish conservative Vasif Kortun said at the Art Journal:

“The biennial does not know in which geography it is located. There is not a single commissioner from the Balkans or the southern Mediterranean. On the contrary, since 2015 we have witnessed a succession of white Europeans. All this shocks me.”

Why are white Europeans still sought after for this role? It’s interesting that Kortun mentions 2015, which makes me think maybe they saw how successfully they were able to bring in Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev to create the illusion of addressing deeper societal issues without doing anything of all this and, in my opinion, detract from the broader conversations. that the exiled descendants of the Armenian Genocide are trying to have with the Republic of Turkey in relation to its continuing history of denial.

To her credit, Ayas, who can be an excellent curator, was very clear with us about Hyperallergic When we asked him about some of the highs and lows of 2015:

The most painful? When our publication for Respiro of Sarkis at the Turkey Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale was censored. The news reached us on April 24, the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. Imagine the dual pain and terror of working within the strict codes of the deep state, while trying to imagine a reprieve for all of us.

What I hope Ayas and other members of the Turkish art world (both inside and outside the Republic), realize is that one can never give in to Holocaust denial under any form whatever. You may think you’re playing politics, but the reality is you’re encouraging Holocaust deniers, who will always demand more.

Blazwick is part of the problem. As a former IKSV board member, Blazwick was part of the advisory committee tasked with choosing a biennial curator, and has now rejected the unanimously accepted advice to appoint Ayas and landed the job herself.

When people say autocrats ruin culture, this is what they mean. Blazwick now apes the same autocrats and plutocrats she serves and curates for. Why stick to one vote when you can usurp the position yourself?

Editor’s note, 08/11/23: The term “Istanbul Biennale” was mistakenly used instead of “Turkish Pavilion” in one instance and this has been corrected.

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