Saturday, September 29, 2007

Artists without borders between Yerevan and Istanbul

Saturday, September 29, 2007
Turkish Daily News

A group of Turkish artists held a workshop for university students in Armenia. The best way to solve the discord between the two countries is to remove prejudices between youths, say artists who believe Armenia and Turkey can unravel their problems through dialogue

Moved by developments in the wake of the Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink's murder, Turkish artists journeyed to the Armenian capital Yerevan last month to meet with local artists and learn about the Armenian way of life. Some Armenian and Turkish intellects have taken action since Dink was killed, launching discussions on bilateral problems. While leaders remain silent for political reasons, artists were undeterred by the closed border gates and scarce flights between the two countries; they set out for peace and conciliation.

During the visit, internationally renowned Turkish curator and art critic Beral Madra held the workshop together with Xurban Collective, Güven İncirlioğlu and Ahmet Atıf Akın for students at Free University of Yerevan. Artists visiting Armenia for the first time had the opportunity to observe daily life in Armenia and to take pulse of Armenians. Traumas in the past can be overcome only through art and dialogue, said the artists, calling on Turkish and Armenian youth to participate in the dialogue. Madra shared her experience with the Turkish Daily News.

Prejudices addessed in a war vault:

Artist and a professor at Free University Ruben Arevshadian repeated the call made by the Turkish group in Yerevan. Madra along with Yerevan artists also reached out to students at Free University to join the workshop. The Armenian youth discussed political issues with the Turkish group of artists during eight-hour sessions. The venue was a vault-like building built in the Soviet period. “Students had many questions about Turkey. We talked about every issue beyond limits and taboos. When they believed in our sincerity, the students forgot about prejudices and approached to the present tension between the two countries from different angles.”

Participants discussed art and political relations from the Soviet-era communism to Nazi Europe. They also explored the social structure in Yerevan, said Madra. They evaluated in social aspects of building a beautiful church in a poor neighborhood in Yerevan. “The students also shared their opinions about historic sites in Yerevan which were practically re-built under the guise of restoration,” she said.

An artist ‘opposed' to Turkish stance:

Admitting that she was quite impressed by Armenia and Armenians, the curator believes if the border were opened relations would mellow. Feeling at home in Armenia, she termed political disputes a “contradiction”. “When I saw Mount Ararat from Yerevan, all borders between the two countries disappeared,” Madra said, not hesitating to add that she is opposed to Turkey's stance on the subject. Underlining the rising tide of nationalism in Turkey recently, Madra asserted that Turkey does not square accounts with its own traumas. According to Madra, the notion of nationalism is lingering, unattached to reality; therefore, it comes across as reactionary and aggressive.

Periods of modernism in the republics founded after the Soviet collapse should be examined; they differ significantly from modernism in Turkey, she added. Turkey quickly dived into a neo-liberal system without going through modernism. On the other hand, the republics established after the Soviet collapse experience modernism deeply in many areas, primarily in art and culture. Neglected neighbors, Madra said, tend to experience art deeply, too.

Who is Beral Madra:

Art critic and curator Beral Madra, 1942, was the curator of the first two Istanbul biennials. She is the director of BM Contemporary Art Center, a non-profit institution. She has also contributed to the Venice biennials assuming the role of curator assistantship of the "Maternities and Memories - Recent Works from the Islamic World" exhibition. She is founding member of Foundation for Future Culture and Art, International Association of Art Critics (AICA) Turkey and Anadolu Kültür A.Ş. She is also a member of the European Cultural Association and Cultural Consciousness Development Foundation. She wrote two books; “Post-peripheral Flux” A Decade of Contemporary Art in Istanbul, and the second one is “Biennial Texts, 1987-2003.”

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.



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