March 27, 2010 - Istanbul Modern - From Traditional to Contemporary
March 27, 2010

From Traditional to Contemporary

From Traditional to Contemporary:
Cultural Memory in Modern Turkish Art
17 February – 23 May 2010

Meclis-i Mebusan Ave. Liman İşletmeleri
Sahası Antrepo No:4 Karaköy – ISTANBUL

İstanbul Modern, follows the traces of traditional forms of thought and production in modern and contemporary art

In its new exhibition, Istanbul Museum of Modern Art follows the traces of traditional forms of thought and production in modern and contemporary art.

Accomplished with the contributions of the Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture Agency, the Exhibition is named “From Traditional to Contemporary”. The Exhibition is devoted to the relationship between traditional Turkish arts and modern and/or contemporary Turkish art, from Westernization to the present. The show focuses on the relationship between art and “the traditional” and aims to show how artists construct history and modernity.

The influence of Anatolia, on the artists, is conveyed in the Exhibition, which intends to remind the national, and international, audiences of the cultural riches of Turkey; a country defined as the bridge between Eastern and Western civilizations.

The show opens on February 17 in the Temporary Exhibitions Hall and will run through May 23. Works of the following artists will be displayed: Erol Akyavaş, İsmet Doğan, İnci Eviner, Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu, Selma Gürbüz, Ergin İnan, Balkan Naci İslimyeli, Murat Morova, and Ekrem Yalçındağ.

The show includes works from different periods of these artists, ranging from Video to Painting and from Installation Art to Photography. Also focusing on “the past of modern art” in Turkey, the Exhibition brings together a selection of objects, such as calligraphies, miniatures, stained glass, textiles, tombaks, and carpets.

The Exhibition opens up a discussion of the meaning of tradition, in contemporary art today. Displaying the works of 9 artists who have drawn their inspiration from tradition and historical roots, the show presents their reinterpretation of the concepts of East/West, local/universal, tradition, modernity, and contemporaneity today.

The show brings several important topics into consideration, such as; the problematic combination of “memory, tradition, past” (which the contemporary art milieu began questioning from the 1980s); the role of “past and tradition” in contemporary art; the relationship between modern art and local culture and history; and also, how the past is addressed, as an identity issue.

A series of talks, to be held in tandem with the Exhibition, will bring artists and experts together, from the fields of history, sociology, art history, economics, cultural studies, and politics. By opening a discussion concerning the components of modern art in Turkey, the talks will allow the integration of different disciplines with the visual arts.

Education program “Travelers in Time”

In conjunction with the Exhibition, “From Traditional to Contemporary”, and with the contributions of Educational Sponsor GarantiBank, Istanbul Modern’s Education and Social Projects Unit has prepared an educational program called “Travelers of Time”. This program focuses on examples within Contemporary Art that employ traditional art forms. Children, young people, and families, participating in the program “Travelers of Time”, will take up the past, present, and future through miniatures, stained glass, mosaics, and murals. The program will include workshops led by İnci Eviner, Ekrem Yalçındağ, Ergin İnan, and Selma Gürbüz; all of them are artists whose works are included in the Exhibition.

What does “tradition” mean to Contemporary Art today?

Levent Çalıkoğlu, the Curator of the Exhibition and Chief Curator of Istanbul Modern, states that, in the show, there are 2 main fields that are interconnected. By focusing on the relationship between “art and tradition”, from Westernization to the present, the Exhibition aims to show how artists construct history and modernity, and also intends to open for discussion, one of the most important veins of a modernism that is peculiar to Turkey. “The first of these 2 fields summarizes the development of this painful process. It focuses on the relationship between “tradition and history” and Turkey’s desire to open up to the West, which began with the Ottoman Empire’s Westernization process and, with the Republic, became established on definitive principles. The second field, on display in the show, discusses what tradition means to contemporary art today, by establishing a ground for comparison with 9 artists at its center.

Levent Çalıkoğlu adds that today, the Contemporary Art world has developed a new interest in traditional forms of decoration and production, and explores the adventures in modernity of different regions. Çalıkoğlu goes on to say that for the last hundred years, many artists in Turkey have been exploring Turkey’s historical and cultural heritage and, reinterpreting it, project it into their own time: “As for the common ground that brings together these 9 artists, it points to important subjects discussed today in the Contemporary Art world. What do history, roots, and the past mean to Contemporary Art? Where do past and tradition stand vis-à-vis Contemporary Art? What is the relationship between local culture and history of modern art in the Western sense, that is set forth as a universal model? Can a new and alternative history of art be written by transforming the cultural past of Anatolia? What do productions based on hand skills, such as handicrafts derived from ornamentation and embroidery, mean to the contemporary arts? In the present political discussions, what is the position of “the past”, as an identity issue?

Visual interaction established with Anatolia

Oya Eczacıbaşı, Chair of the board Istanbul Modern, mentions that Istanbul, a 2010 European Capital of Culture, sheds light on the history of Turkey with its geographical location and cultural heritage of thousands of years. Eczacıbaşı goes on to say that “Turkey is situated at the crossroads, not only of the past but also of the future of East and West, and forms a very colorful cultural mosaic with the traditions, lifestyles, and beliefs shaped by different cultures that have migrated from different lands, and the many languages that have interconnected. Turkey is a unique land, where numerous societies, and many religions and cultures, coexist. The show, which aims to remind the audience of the cultural stock of this country, conveys the visual interaction which the artists have established with Anatolia.”

Oya Eczacıbaşı emphasizes that during the cultural, political, social, and technological development of Turkey, many different cultural and aesthetic approaches were included. This exchange, that emerged between the West and “the local”, engendered a completely new and powerful energy. Eczacıbaşı expresses this view: “Artistic production comes to the fore with its original identity in opposition to global monotony. The most important content, as emphasized in the works of contemporary Turkish artists, can be seen in their challenge to Western culture and art, in terms of harmony and contrast.”

Oya Eczacıbaşı adds that the Exhibition, which also calls attention to the “global/local” issue as one of the new topics of EU countries, presents a view of tradition, modernity, and contemporaneity, and aims to hand down the originality and dynamism of the cultural heritage of Turkey, to future generations.


Erol Akyavaş is one of the rare artists who developed a unique synthesis between Western rationality and the Eastern world view. In Turkish painting, he transferred the tradition of Islamic thought to his works, with an inclination toward Sufism. Besides his figurative work, Erol Akyavaş created abstract canvases predominantly using architectural forms and sometimes drawing inspiration from traditional Turkish miniatures. The influence of Sufi philosophy is evident in Akyavaş’s paintings.

In the Exhibition, İsmet Doğan interprets “history and tradition” as a political project and wants us, first of all, to view the legitimate history, that is presented to us, as a topic of debate. He reinterprets the meaning of history by criticizing the meanings of the information and symbols that legitimate history offers up to us. The artist treats the written and visual information in combination, like a big mass of collages. This brings history into existence and carries it to the present, and he designates “tradition” as an identity issue.

With her installation “New Citizen”, which she has set up on a 60 square meter surface, İnci Eviner has created a work that questions our approaches to traditional representation. Bringing European wallpaper tradition face to face with the ornamentations used on Ottoman tiles, the artist lays emphasis on the political meaning and content of the visual alphabet of tradition. The artist, reinterprets signs, symbols, and patterns through motifs she applies on wall surfaces. These motifs are anonymous, or their sources have been skewed, but the artist establishes a relationship between “tradition” and moving images, via a triple video projection which constitutes an important part of her installation. Recently exhibited at the MAC/VAL Museum of Contemporary Art in Paris, the installation is one of the most interesting examples of the “response to tradition” which can be produced today.

Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu, who takes part in the Exhibition with a selection from the family collection, is an artist who approaches the “local/universal” art debate, existing in modern Turkish painting, via the synthesis he has gleaned from his research on Anatolian folk culture. The works of Bedri Rahmi, including paintings, poems, and a career in education, focused on the problems of the country and the visual and oral culture of the people. Bedri Rahmi was one of the first artists to believe that “the village and its traditions” are an essence that should be treated as a cultural phenomenon. Claiming that folkloric elements could give a direction to modern are, the artist believed that traditional elements should be internalized with an entirely local sensibility.

In her recent work, Selma Gürbüz transfers myths and legends to the stances of iconic women’s bodies in today’s fashion magazines. She also brings, into the realm of feminist art, the most important organ of figures in miniatures, which is the eye. The Exhibition will display examples of her last 20 years of work. The artist, who prefers different means of expression (such as painting, sculpture, and carpets) on occasion, gives a “pop version” of tradition as she expresses it in our time. Influenced by realms in which Eastern tradition and thought have predominantly struck roots (such as Anatolia, Mesopotamia, India, Japan, the Middle Ages, and The Thousand and One Nights), the artist establishes her own figurative tradition.

For the exhibition, Ergin İnan has made a selection from a range of thought and production spanning almost 30 years. İnan’s present-day treatment of “tradition” is dream-like in its effect. A wide selection of Ergin İnan’s works is displayed in the show, including his kümbet tombs and icons. As an artist who has inhaled the atmosphere of the East, he is involved with the mystical rituals of Asia Minor; he wanders within the boundaries of the West’s rational and critical language of form; he juxtaposes the Masnavi’s idea of love, light, body, and faith with Existentialism’s effort to understand and interpret the world. The artist strives to produce a response to “existence” and “identity” issues, through his synthesis of Western and Eastern arts.

A section, spanning 40 years of production from Balkan Naci İslimyeli‘s work, will be displayed at the Exhibition. Regarding the encounter of Eastern and Western traditions, the artist has created a language all his own, within a pluralistic expressive language ranging from Painting to Photography to Video Installation. İslimiyeli perceives his relationship with “tradition” more as a time issue. He also states that he does not limit his artworks to their formal characteristics but that he penetrates them and draws on Sufism in his evaluation. Certain elements, which İslimyeli’s takes from traditional folk art, are elements that contribute to the concept in his works and are reflected from his own memory onto his paintings.

Murat Morova, who opposes the use of “tradition” as a stock of ethnographic material, works the visual, oral, and written information of Islamic aesthetics into his art, with a contemporary interpretation. Morova especially favors evaluating and interpreting Islamic aesthetics, which are dominant in Anatolia, through a new lens. The Exhibition displays examples by Morova that represent different periods of his work.

Ekrem Yalçındağ, an artist who interprets the approach to motifs and decoration in traditional arts using a contemporary language, has executed a 70 square meter mural in the Exhibition Hall. In his paintings, which he patiently accomplishes with bristle-hair brushes, the artist has recourse to the possibilities offered by a single color. He also lays emphasis on Islamic decorative tradition’s relation to mathematical order and geometry. In his compositions, Yalçındağ uses the tradition of floral motifs, that are encountered in Ottoman tiles, as his point of departure. Combining these compositions with the concept of color in contemporary art, the artist touches on the relationship between “space and traditional art”, through the mural he has done specially for the Exhibition.

Istanbul Museum of Modern Art

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