The year that was…

By Victoria Khroundina | December 30, 2013

With just a few days left of 2013, it’s time to look back on the year that was. 

The year 2013 will be etched in history as the year of the Gezi protests. It all started with a tree, so to speak, in late May when a group of people occupied Gezi Park in Taksim to protest against its demolition for construction purposes. What started as an amicable protest escalated into Turkey’s major cities becoming conflict zones with peaceful protesters experiencing sheer brutality from riot police who polluted the air with tear gas, and unnecessarily fired water canons and rubber bullets. The girl in the red dress (above) became an iconic image of the protests, and there were many others like it born on social media pages, which followed the events much more zealously (and accurately) than the mainstream media. It would prove to be the hottest summer in Turkey’s recent history: cultural events were cancelled; artists, whether musicians, photographers or contemporary artists, found a new platform for their creativity; even those not camping out in Gezi banged pots and pans in solidarity; and, on the unpleasant end of the spectrum, many people were injured and a few lives were sadly lost. Unfortunately, the injunction against the government’s plan to build a replica of the Topçu Barracks in Gezi Park was overturned unanimously by the Istanbul Regional Administrative Court in late July, but the protests weren’t a complete lose-lose. They ignited fervent passion in citizens and united communities. Numerous environmental, archaeological and minority movements and forums were formed because of the protests. Turkey entered a new era of collective public action. 

News of other treasures under threat trickled in all year long. As of March, 17 groups had applied to the General Directorate of State Airports Authority to receive tender specifications for the building of a third airport that would destroy a large proportion of the Belgrade Forest. This added insult to the injury of last year’s announcement of plans to build a third bridge over the Bosphorus, which would likewise cut through and destroy the northern forest areas. Since August there has been a bid to save the village of Gümüşdere from the clutches of ISKI, the city’s water supply and sanitation administrators, who planned to pass a water pipeline through the land, severely endangering the agricultural livelihood of its population (in December we received news that the decision had, thankfully, been overturned). Trabzon’s Haghia Sophia was turned into a mosque in late June (another one bites the dust) but, more disturbingly, it seemed that a large chunk of its terrace had been turned over to developers… a tragedy not just for art historians, but for Trabzon in general.

The Yedikule bostans as photographed by Fritz von der Schulenburg

Yet the issue that was closest to Cornucopia’s heart was the plight to save the Yedikule bostans (market gardens). In early July a Facebook message from Aleksandar Sopov, a PhD student at Harvard and an expert in Ottoman agricultural practices, stated that the Fatih Municipality has ordered the destruction of one of the last bostans inside Istanbul’s city walls. These 1600-year old bostans grow unparalleled crops (unique strands of lettuce, mint and rocket, just to name a few), and have provided a livelihood for farming families for generations. Experts were invited, reports were written, a special school (the School of Historical Yedikule Gardens) was formed, awareness was raised and the fight is still being fought. Watch this space for further developments.

All this (and more) led to the extinguishing of Turkey’s Olympic dreammuch to the delight of numerous environmental and urban groups who saw Istanbul winning the Olympics as a huge disaster for the above-mentioned sights, scores of neighbourhoods and the city in general.

A still from Halil Altındere's ‘Wonderland’, one of the most admired works at the 13th Istanbul Biennial

But it was not all doom and gloom – 2013 proved a very lucrative year for contemporary art. The 13th Istanbul Biennial, which launched in September, and its prologue exhibition at Berlin’s TANAS, was a success for the most part and, in the wake of Gezi, dealt with issues close to the hearts of many: freedom of expression in the public domain, the voices of the oppressed, the artist as ‘barbarian’ and the privatisation of culture. Biennial fever spread throughout the country, with offerings in Izmir and Bodrum, as well as Istanbul.

Anish Kapoor's ‘Yellow’ (1999), on show at the Sakıp Sabancı Museum

Big names came to Istanbul’s museums in 2013. There was a retrospective of the work of Nickolas Muray (a leading portraitist of the pre-war Hollywood celebrities and a pioneer of colour photography in advertising) at the Pera Museum from January to April. A selection of unique paintings and sculptures from the Spanish pop-art artist Manolo Valdés was exhibited at Pera from May to July. The Greek artist Sophia Vari’s textured paintings and feminine sculptures, spanning her entire career, have been on show there from October (ending on January 14, 2014). Sixty works by the Surrealist master Joan Miró painted the Ottoman arsenal Tophane-i Amire red from November to December. And the paragon of form and colour, Anish Kapoor, brought his monumental stone sculptures to the grounds of the Sakıp Sabancı Museum in September (strongly recommended, the exhibition runs until February 2, 2014).

Pierre Loti's photo of a man and two women walking towards the camera in front of the Fatih Mosque

Some of my own favourite exhibitions included 1001 Faces of Orientalism at the Sakıp Sabancı Museum from April to August, a multi-dimensional, if slightly underdone, look at 19th-century Europe’s fascination with the East; Trespassing Modernities at SALT Galata, from May to August, which traced the legacy of post-Stalinist architecture in the former Soviet Union; and Afterimage, the dark but poignant and imaginative offering from Mat Collishaw at ARTER, also from May to August. The amateur Russian photographer Nicholas V Artamonoff’s photos of Byzantine remains in Istanbul from the 1930s and 1940s, exhibited at the RCAC from July to November, also piqued my interest. Then there were Pierre Loti’s dreamy snaps of Istanbul, taken between 1903 and 1905, exhibited at the Notre Dame High School from September to December.

An impression of how Koç Contemporary is set to look (Photo: Grimshaw)

We started our weekly gallery walks in September, pointing readers to the best exhibitions around the city’s gallery hotspots. Two art fairs competed for attention in 2013: established Contemporary Istanbul, now in its eight year, over four days in November, and newcomer ArtInternational in September. They will both be back in 2014. And there was news in July that the architects Grimshaw had won the bid to design the Vehbi Koç Foundation’s much-anticipated contemporary museum, set to open in Beyoğlu in 2016.

There was plenty for film and music lovers as well. The 32nd Istanbul Film Festival had more than 200 Turkish and international films on show over two weeks in March and April, and in September the smaller, but just as popular, Filmekini in September showcased film festival darlings from Cannes to Sundance. Pera Museum and Istanbul Modern continued their excellent year-round film programmes. Outside Istanbul, the SineMardin, in the first week of June, brought together filmmakers from the Middle East for a film festival that endeavours to ‘bring together cinema and humanity’, and Turkey’s biggest and longest-running film festival, the International Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival, celebrated its half-centennial anniversary in October. The 20th Jazz Festival organised by IKSV in July had some winners (Quartette Humaine, Lena Chamamyan, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Ramsey Lewis, to name a few) but it was Akbank’s Jazz Festival, from September to October, which impressed above all with their programme which included the Malawian singer Malia, the father of Ethio-jazz Mulatu Astatqé and the Turkish saxophonist Tamer Temel. Meanwhile the 41st Istanbul Music Festival, in June, featured the cream of the classical music world crop. For those suffering withdrawal symptoms, the monthly SEED Recitals, which started in September, invite some of the top chamber and jazz musicians to perform in Sakıp Sabancı Museum’s state-of-the-art concert hall in Emirgan.

The finish line at the Bosphorus Cross-Continental Swim (Photo: Tim Cornwell)

Sporting news included Cornucopia contributor Alice Cornwell's swim across the Bosphorus in 1 hour, 5 minutes and 24 seconds in July’s Bosphorus Cross-Continental Swim. And the Danish-Dutch-born windsurfing champion Bjørn Dunkerbeck hung loose in Alaçatı for the five-day PWA Pegasus Airlines World Cup, part of the PWA World Tour, in mid-August.

Republic Day celebrations at Istiklal Caddesi – Tünel (Photo: Alice Greenway)

Republic Day on October 29 was celebrated with police in riot gear dispersing demonstrators with water-cannon trucks and tear gas. The main event of the day was the unveiling of the Marmaray Tunnel, a ten-year construction project, which promises to reduce commuter time from the Asian side to Sultanahmet to four minutes.

The designs for which Dice Kayak received the Jameel Prize

Some good news towards the end of the year: in December the Council of Europe awarded the Museum Prize for 2014 to the Baksı Museum in Bayburt, in northeastern Turkey (the museum was previewed in Cornucopia 49). And the couture fashion label Dice Kayak won the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Jameel Prize for their architecturally pleasing designs which take inspiration from the robes of Ottoman rulers, Byzantine mosaics and the domes of Istanbul’s mosques and palaces (the fashion label was previewed in Cornucopia 44).

Crowds get ready for the December 22 solidarity march (Photo: Murat Germen)

The year was rounded off with a solidarity march on December 22 in Istanbul. The brainchild of a number of organisations, movements and forums (many sprouted from the Gezi protests), the march’s aim was to raise awareness and stand up for what Istanbul is quickly losing – its environmental treasures, archaeological and historical sites, and the plethora of communities who are being displaced daily without permission. After weeks of preparations and permissions sought (and granted) from local municipalities, thousands of people milled together in Kadıköy two Sundays ago. In the wake of the corruption and bribery charges earlier in December, some march participants turned up with shoe boxes filled with fake money and corresponding slogans. The day started innocently, progressed with the usual police brutality and ended ominously, with numerous people injured and a 64-year old lady ending up in a coma. In 2013 the people of Turkey formed a united front. Let’s hope that in 2014 some of their wishes and demands are granted.

Posted in Architecture, Contemporary Art, Culinary Arts, Design, Exhibitions, Film, History, Museums, Music and Performing Arts, Protest Music, Nature, News, Gezi Protests, Photography, Sport
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