Will the show go on?

Reactions from some of Istanbul's cultural institutions to the Gezi Park protests

By Victoria Khroundina | July 3, 2013


The Gezi Park resistance, which started in Istanbul on May 31 and pretty soon spread to every corner of Turkey, has had an impact not only on the issues at the heart of the protests themselves, but on many aspects of practical and cultural life. As we have posted elsewhere in this blog, many amazing scenes of beauty and art have come out of the resistance. As we also posted, however, many cultural events, such as exhibitions and musical events (especially festivals aimed at a younger demographic), have been postponed or even cancelled. I decided to go straight to the horse’s mouth and talk to some leading art and music institutions in Istanbul about how the resistance has affected their programmes and whether the arts can be a positive influence at a time like this.

For some of the institutions I talked to, the show did go on. Both ARTER, situated smack bang in the middle of Istiklal Caddesi where many of the protest processions took place, and Pera Museum, just behind Istiklal, continued with their current programming. As Pera Museum’s Fatma Colakoğlu puts it: 'We wanted to give the message that we would not yield to the negative climate and circumstances.’ ARTER’s chief curator, Emre Baykal, echoes Colakoğlu's words, saying: ‘The worst thing you can do in times of trouble is give up your own practice, especially if you believe your work could contribute to the idea of a better world.’ Although nearby Galerist postponed the opening of their current exhibition (from June 4 to July 3), they did exhibit the works of the South-African artist Kendell Geers from June 5.

A different story from RAMPA, right in the middle of Akaretler in Beşiktaş – where some of the most terrifying and brutal events of the protests took place: they postponed their summer exhibition of the works of the Denizli-born artist Hatice Güleryüz, scheduled to open on June 6, to 2014. This came out of a mutual decision between the artist and the gallery. Nardis Jazz Club, near Galata Tower and quite close to the action, say it was the potential audiences as well as the artists who dictated whether the programming was affected. ‘The musicians did not want to play, the local audience was in a terrible mood and nightlife was the last thing they could think of,’ said Nardis’s Zuhal Focan. Their shows for the band Lure, scheduled for June 4 and 5, were cancelled not because the musicians didn’t want to play, but because the parents of one of the band members had been badly affected by tear gas in their apartment in Izmir. The 41st Istanbul Music Festival was also scheduled to start on June 4 and although many of the events were ahead, the Festival's Director Yeşim Güre told me that the public was not really focused on cultural events when things flared up and due to logistics (such as the location of some of the venues in relation to the protest hotspots), a few events were postponed or cancelled. For Gallery Park Art, the protests changed everything. Their current exhibition was supposed to end on June 3, but with the protests just taking off at this point, the organisers decided to put a hold on their programming in order to participate directly in the movement.

Some of the cultural institutions I spoke to have been affected, or have been contributing to the resistance, in other ways. Some showed support by providing shelter to the protesters, as in the case of Pera Museum, situated close to the action in the Galatasaray neighbourhood, who gave people a space for clean air and water. Pera had this interesting anecdote to tell: ‘On one of the roughest days [of the resistance], the Museum's billboards in the Odakule passageway were ripped off and used as a barricade. A couple of our followers apologised on our Twitter account, and also thanked us for keeping the museum open as people ran [into it] from the water cannon and tear gas.’

When the protests spread to other parks in the city after Gezi Park was dismantled on June 15, Park Art, which is situated just on the periphery of Yoğurtçu Park in Kadıköy, also provided a safe haven for protesters. They kept their doors open and let people use their bathroom and internet amenities. Other institutions took part in the resistance through their artists, as in the case of Galerist. Kendell Geers’s exhibition was coincidentally scheduled for the same time, and instead of focusing on the show Geers joined the protests and wrote a letter dedicated to everyone who joined the resistance. His talk tonight might provide more interesting insights into the events. 

All the cultural institutions I spoke to believe art is beneficial at a time like this – or that in some cases, as RAMPA’s Ustungel Inanc told me, it is more that this time is beneficial for art. Galerist shares a similar view, commenting that ‘life and art are directly connected’ and these kinds of ‘incidents can either create or reshape the art scene. These times are especially nourishing for artists. As Kendell stated: "There can be no change without pain and stasis is a killer."’

ARTER's Baykal had a similar view: ‘People from all walks of life have united against authoritarian and oppressive systems of governance and were able to create their own platforms for discussion. A similar movement has been triggered in the art scene. Artists, art initiatives and professionals have started to organise informal gatherings trying to establish new ways of communication and dialogue. This is a very important gain.’ And, Güre puts it rather beautifully: ‘What we’ve seen in  all the concerts is  that music heals the souls of people and it has an amazing power of uniting people.’

Park Art’s manager, Bahar Aykaç, says that because art is a powerful tool that affects people, it opens up a space where people can see what is going on and can experience the resistance – in an open forum – without getting directly involved. Nardis Jazz Club, too, believes music to be a tremendous psychological support. The club tells me that one night during the protests a couple of musicians who have not been playing for a while came in during a performance. They enjoyed the music, relaxed, and by the end of the night they were happy.

Has the resistance actually inspired any special events or exhibitions? For ARTER, Pera Museum and Nardis Jazz Club, the answer is no, but they plan to maintain their programme as far as possible in order to encourage art at these interesting times. ARTER adds that it is important to ponder over and process what’s happening before jumping into anything. Pera Museum say they will not be organising anything as part of the protests directly, but in the future they plan to organise an academic panel discussion, along with their sister institution, the Istanbul Research Institution, exploring the space, architecture and history of Taksim Square. Because RAMPA’s upcoming programme has already been set, they will not be organising anything special in this sense, but Inanc does believe that many related issues may come up in artists’ works in the long term.

Gallery Pak Art, however, is putting on a special exhibition, opening on July 5, titled Aesthetics of Resistance. The idea came about in a very organic way. As protesters gathered in different parks around the city at the beginning of the week of June 17, someone at Yoğurtçu Park yelled out, to loud cheers, that there should be a photography/painting exhibition. Aykaç talked with her partner at the gallery and they decided to do it. They placed a call inviting submissions on Facebook that week and received over 3,000 – some from well-known artists, some from amateurs. The exhibition has been co-ordinated by a group made up of people participating in the resistance movement in the park and who follow Park Art on Facebook, and other volunteers keen to be involved. The exhibition will have a common theme (focusing on particular aspects of the protests, such as the violence, the peace, the humour, the fear) and will act as a social remembrance rather than a moneymaking exercise. Aykaç tells me that she hopes other galleries and corporations support the resistance. There are many ways to do that, and each institution needs to find its own way of lending support.

The protests – and especially the questions it raises about public space and freedom of expression – are extremelly pertinent to the theme of this year's Biennial coming up in September. Its curator Fulya Erdemci told me that the ‘last three weeks have been unique and unprecedented in the history of Turkey’. Erdemci and her team have just began to think about how the biennial can reformulate itself under these very recent and novel circumstances. She says: ‘In that sense, we will reconsider the format of the “Public Alchemy”, the public programme and many projects that were planned to intervene in the public domain. Right now, we are meeting with writers, thinkers, activists and artists to learn about and understand their opinions and demands. Hopefully soon, we can come up with a more solid plan for the revisions and changes.’

Although, as RAMPA’s Inanc believes, the protests have been ‘a big blow to the art and entertainment scene’, it is comforting to know that the resistance has inspired so much creativity.

Planned shows that we know to have been postponed or cancelled include:

First the Vodafone Istanbul Calling festival announced the cancellation of some events for June, but now most of the shows scheduled for early to mid-July (as well as sideshows at various venues around Istanbul) have also been called off. The fate of the shows scheduled for late July and early August is still undecided (or has yet to be announced). Check the festival's website for a list of cancelled shows.

The Lana Del Rey concert has been postponed from July 7 to September 20.

Some 20th Istanbul Jazz Festival events have also been cancelled, namely An Evening with Bryan Ferry on July 8 and In Memory of Sevinç Tevs on July 11.

Photograph: Hamoon Nasiri Photography 

Posted in Exhibitions, Music and Performing Arts, Protest Music, News, Gezi Protests
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