Whatever The Personal History Says!

A person is left at the mercy of his own small personal history at wide-ranging, large-scale exhibitions like ‘imagination and reality’ currently at İstanbul modern. whatever the personal history says, that’s it. one lingers in front of the works it singles out.

Some exhibitions consist of more than mere image and sound. When one tours them, besides the many visual images one also gets a sense of a history, imagination, emotion; in other words, things one doesn’t readily come across in a dream, at a lecture. This is exactly what happens at Istanbul Modern’s Imagination and Reality exhibition. Here, we are in a dream, in a class, on a family visit.  What we are presented with are the achievements of 74 women artists from the 1900’s up to the present, a history of modern and contemporary art in a nutshell. And they resound through the hall just like one of the works in the show - İnci Eviner’s video called Kızlar Avrupa’da (Girls in Europe): “Before Rilke died there was a secret / He left that secret to you listen / If this earth forgets you / Say to the land lying mute / I am flowing / And to the fast-flowing water / I exist / I exist…”

The exhibition is virtually an exhaustive anthology of everything from the pioneering women artists about whose lives and production we know little and whose names are fading into oblivion to the newly discovered moderns, from the powerful figures who have shaped the contemporary art milieu in recent years to the emergent values of our day. And as such it fraught with all the dangers that go with being chronological and encyclopedic.

All Criticism Aside…

All criticism aside, however, when the personal history takes over one is totally smitten by some of the works. Aliye Berger’s (1903-1974) Güneşin Doğuşu (Sun Rising), for example. In her novel, Füreya, Ayşe Kulin describes her in Füreya Koral’s own words:  Aliye is a gay and vivacious women, fond of scarves and passionate about color. When she loses her husband, she takes up art, engraving even, as a distraction. A complete amateur as critics would later have it, but equally schooled when one considers her family.  As the sister of writer Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı (the Fisherman of Halicarnassos) and artist Fahrelnissa Zeid, and the maternal aunt of ceramic artist Füreya Koral and painter Nejad Melih Devrim, how could she remain a stranger to art? Sun Rising, which took first prize in a painting competition, Work and Progress, mounted Yapı Kredi Bank on the 10th anniversary of its founding in 1954, is her first oil painting, and the award sparked a controversy for that reason. How could a woman artist with no academic training take first prize in a competition judged by world class critics like Herbert Read, Paul Fierens and Lionello Venturi? How could this happen?

But happen it did. And it was a good thing. Good too that she has been included in the exhibition along with a profusion of works by 74 Turkish women artists. Not only that but Rising Sun is my own favorite today, the work my personal history singled out. Give yours a chance to speak up and make its choice. You have until January 22nd.

Fatma Aliye: Turkey’s First Woman Novelist

In this exhibition, which traces the relationship artists forge between imagination and reality and how they turn their fictions into reality, takes it name from the 1891 novel, Imagination and Reality, written by Turkey’s first woman novelist, Fatma Aliye, in collaboration with Ahmet Mithat. A love story, this book in two parts embodies many symbolic aspects of the period. Fatma Aliye wrote the part called imagination and Ahmet Mithat the part focusing on reality. On the novel’s cover Fatma Aliye appears only under the gender-specific pen name ‘A Woman’. First serialized in an Istanbul daily, the novel appeared as a book a year later.