Modern Art In Istanbul

Istanbul is a city of contemporary art. This became even more palpable with the opening last month of the 11th International Istanbul Biennial and its parallel exhibitions. We are all aware of the museums and galleries.

There’s no way not to see and know about them. But there is also a less visible aspect to it, namely, the initiatives by independent artists all over the city. Young, independent, experimental, inter-disciplinary and alternative... Why ‘alternative’? We’ll soon find out when Istanbul hosts the ‘1st International Artists’ Initiatives Istanbul Meeting’  2-6 October. Organized jointly by Art Pie and the Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture, the event, to be held at the Kadırga Culture Center, is going to be extremely intensive. It’s a good occasion as well for taking a look at the city’s independent artist initiatives, especially for art lovers.

Virginia Woolf has a pithy answer to that ‘crushing’ question men never tire of asking women: ‘You say you’re as capable of thinking as we are, so why haven’t you produced a genius like Shakespeare?’ Woolf wrote a book called ‘A Room Of Her Own’, in which she says, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” The situation is the same I think for independent initiatives. Owning a space entails no end of financial worries, but still there is hope.
The oldest of the venues for alternative contemporary art in Istanbul is the Apartment Project, under way since 1999 in Şeh Bender Sokak near the Tünel.  Galata Perform, founded in 2002, is another initiative in the same area.  Located on Büyük Hendek Caddesi, this venue is popular for bringing together different artistic disciplines. BAS, which is currently engaged in moving, is also nearby at No.166 Meşrutiyet Caddesi.
Hafriyat, a group of artists that has been organizing its own exhibitions since 1996, is among those that now has a place of their own. Everything an independent art environment requires is available at Hafriyat’s home in Karaköy. Meanwhile PiST, parent of the contemporary art calendar LiST, is within walking distance of Nişantaşı, home of the established galleries. Another independent initiative on the Istanbul art scene, mentalKLINIK is hidden in the true sense of the word in the Opera Palace apartment building on Ihlamur Yolu. And 5533, which landed like a flying saucer at the Istanbul Manifaturacılar Çarşısı (IMÇ) in February 2008, is also savoring the pleasure of a settled existence...

Initiatives with their own venue are fraught with responsibilities from organizing exhibitions to paying the rent and simply keeping the place clean. Consequently those without a permanent venue are in the majority. One of them is the screen that has stood on the roof of The Marmara Pera at Tepebaşı since 2006, YAMA. Another homeless initiative that is constantly changing its address is MASA. As the name indicates, this institution’s assets are limited to a table. And then there are the initiatives that enthusiastically organize only to be left without a venue later, like the Oda Projesi (literally Room Project) that opted for homelessness after five years in a rented flat.
NOMAD, which backs local production in the digital culture field; Atılkunst, which produces stickers on the political issues of the day and distributes them by email, Kurye (Courier), which describes itself as an initiative but is non-profit; Kop-Art, which emerged as a artistic movement in the broadest sense; and Videoist, which opposes the concept of industrial art, are just some of the other movements without a venue that are producing independent projects. Last but not least, Sanatorium, Caravansarai, Daralan, Daire Sanat, ARK Kültür, URA and the Istanbul Museum of Contemporary Art can also be added to the list.