A unique museum located on top of a mountain in a northeastern Anatolian village that deserved to be on any ‘Best Remote Museums’ list.
From Bayburt, the capital of a little-visited province in the northeast of Turkey, roughly between Erzurum and Trabzon, it takes a 50-kilometre drive along the road to İspir to reach the Baksı Museum.
Poplar and birch trees are clumped in neatly planted rows along the Çoruh river, slow and meandering in this wide grassy valley. In late May streaks of snow are retreating to the highest mountain slopes, which rise in every direction to a white-flecked blue sky. Roadside villages are quickly left behind, save for a tractor chugging along the otherwise empty grey tarmac, or the occasional herd of cows.
Eventually the valley walls begin to creep closer, you cross the river and begin to climb. When the road levels out, halfway up the mountainside, a strange-looking structure appears in the near distance, resembling an early sci-fi moon station, built where an observatory ought to be.
The Baksı Museum is the brainchild and second home of Hüsamettin Koçan, an Istanbul-based artist who was born in the village a stone’s throw away when it, too, was called Baksı, literally “Shaman”, before being renamed Bayraktar. Koçan’s father used to travel for work, returning to the village only every two years or so, a schedule which his son – a thick-bearded, charismatic man in his 60s – enjoys telling me is reflected in his seven siblings’ relative ages. They would await their father’s return, keeping a keen eye on the hilltop which the museum’s elliptical roof has now replaced.
After moving to Istanbul in his youth, Hüsamettin became a renowned artist and later dean of Marmara University’s Fine Arts Faculty, where he continues to teach part time. After a while he stopped coming home in the summer, and only returned in order to lay his father to rest in the village from which he had been absent for so much of his life. It was then, in 2000, that the idea of setting up a museum in this remote corner of Turkey began to form in his mind, but it would be ten years before Hüsamettin and his wife, Oya, a ceramics artist and director of the foundation which supports the museum, would realise their ambition.
From the beginning, the museum had to serve the village as well as visitors from the city. Local women are taught to create updated versions of traditional designs at a weaving workshop on site and men are employed as watchmen and caretakers. An ethnographic collection preserves everyday local heritage threatened by Turkey’s breakneck pace of change, and two exhibitions have sought to promote dialogue between traditional crafts and contemporary art.
The whole enterprise challenges the role of art institutions in society – a topic raised before but by no means exhausted in Turkey, and one especially relevant to Istanbul, where so much of the nation’s creative talent is focused.