Woman Of ‘Firsts

Woman of ‘firsts’, Semiha Berksoy is being remembered this month in two different exhibitions, at Kâzım Taşkent Art Gallery and Sermet Çifter Hall, on the 100th anniversary of her birth.

Dramatic high soprano, iconoclastic painter, scintillating actress... This year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Semiha Berksoy. And the exhibition, ‘I Lived on Art, I Lived on Love’, at Yapı-Kredi’s Kâzım Taşkent Art Gallery and Sermet Çifter Hall is a good opportunity for getting to know this amazing woman. Featured in the exhibition are hundreds of documents, photographs, letters, pictures, costumes and accessories the actress had saved in bags, files and cupboards. In short, all the memorabilia of a life lived on art and love.

But the centerpiece of the exhibition, which also includes video recordings of the soprano’s arias, is surely the ‘Semiha Berksoy Room’ from the collection of the Turkish State Museum of Painting and Sculpture, which best represents the artist and her work. Berksoy herself made the room in 1993 when she was 84 years old, weaving her life into it as a silkworm into its cocoon.Contained in the room, where the film ‘Semiha Berksoy b. Unplugged’ was shot, is the artist’s ‘whole world’, as she put it. The serum bottle attached to her arm during cardiac surgery, her mother’s antique sewing machine, a curling iron that had once belonged to her mother, the piano on which she practiced every morning, china dinner services, hats, jewelry and pictures, as well as gifts from admirers such as Nâzım Hikmet, Fikret Mualla and Celal Esad.

Turkey’s first ‘diva’, Semiha Berksoy was born in Istanbul in 1910. Entering the Istanbul Municipal Conservatory in 1928 as a scholarship student, she was admitted to the Namık İsmail Studio of the Academy of Fine Arts in 1929. In 1931 she played in the first Turkish ‘talkie’, ‘The Streets of Istanbul’, made by Muhsin Ertuğrul, and immediately thereafter appeared in Turkey’s first opera production, ‘Özsoy’. Graduating from the Berlin State Academy of Music with top honors in 1936, in 1941 Berksoy became together with Nurullah Taşkıran Turkey’s first professional opera singer in the country’s first opera studio, founded by Karl Ebert. Engaged as a soloist by the Ankara State Opera in 1950, Berksoy assumed the title of ‘prima donna’ in 1966. Berksoy, who exhibited her paintings in numerous cities, including Paris, Munich, Venice, Istanbul and Ankara, died on August 14, 2004.