Dream and Reality

Modern and contemporary women artists of Turkey come together

With the exhibition Dream and Reality - Modern and Contemporary Women Artists from Turkey, which will last from September 16, 2011 to January 22, 2012, İstanbul Modern aims to put on the agenda Turkey’s social and cultural transformation via the work of women artists. Centered on the position of women artists in modern and contemporary art, the show offers a new, alternative perspective on the sociocultural history of Turkey.

Curated by Fatmagül Berktay, Levent Çalıkoğlu, Zeynep İnankur, and Burcu Pelvanoğlu, the selection encompasses the works of women artists stretching from the early 1900s to our day and incorporates diverse disciplines ranging from painting to video.

The exhibition connects 74 artists, including pioneering female artists the lives and productions about whom we know little and whose names are almost forgotten; the rediscovered moderns; and women artists who for the last four decades have been shaping the contemporary art scene with their intellectual attitude and practical actions.

Centered on the work produced by women artists for more than a century, the exhibition reminds us of the artists’ pioneering position in the history of art while aiming to render visible their reckoning with Turkey’s sociocultural dynamics and especially their critical position in contemporary art.

Sponsored by the Eczacıbaşı Group, all activities in the exhibition are made possible thanks to the contributions of Mrs. Tamara Mansimov. Besides technology sponsor LG, also contributing to the show are The İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Tepta Lighting, İstanbul Modern Restaurant, CNN Turk, Acarlar Makine, and Antalis.

The exhibition takes its title from the 1891 novel Dream and Reality coauthored by Fatma Aliye, the first Turkish female writer, and Ahmet Mithat. This two-part romance features many of the period’s symbolic characteristics; the part called dream was written by Fatma Aliye and the part laying emphasis on reality by Ahmet Mithat. Fatma Aliye is featured on the cover of the novel with the penname "A Woman," only indicating her gender, whereas the author of reality is male.

Examining the relationship the artists establish with dream and reality and of how they turn their dreams into reality, the show points to the layers of reality, both visible and invisible, in today’s contemporary world.

The exhibition, which is also like a summary of modern and contemporary Turkish art, brings together 74 artists: Mihri Müşfik, Melek Celal Sofu, Belkıs Mustafa, Güzin Duran, Nazlı Ecevit, Fahrelnissa Zeid, Aliye Berger, Bedia Güleryüz, Sabiha Rüştü Bozcalı, Nermin Faruki, Sabiha Ziya Bengütaş, Hale Asaf, Maide Arel, Şükriye Dikmen, Eren Eyüboğlu, Semiha Berksoy, Füreya, Frumet Tektaş, Zerrin Bölükbaşı, Leyla Gamsız, Naile Akıncı, Tiraje Dikmen, Bilge Civelekoğlu Friedlaender, Bilge Alkor, Candeğer Furtun, Tülay Tura Börtecene, Alev Ebüzziya Siesbye, Füsun Onur, Nil Yalter, Tomur Atagök, Neş’e Erdok, İpek Duben, Nur Koçak, Nevhiz, Seyhun Topuz, Meriç Hızal, Nancy Atakan, Gülsün Karamustafa, Canan Beykal, Ayşe Erkmen, Azade Köker, Fatma Tülin, Hale Arpacıoğlu, Canan Tolon, İnci Eviner, Kezban Arca Batıbeki, Handan Börüteçene, Canan Dağdelen, Hale Tenger, Selda Asal, Selma Gürbüz, Aydan Murtezaoğlu, Gül Ilgaz, Şükran Moral, Arzu Başaran, Gülay Semercioğlu, Mürüvvet Türkyılmaz, Neriman Polat, Canan, Nezaket Ekici, Esra Ersen, Ebru Özseçen, Elif Çelebi, Leyla Gediz, Bengü Karaduman, Aslı Sungu, İnci Furni, Nilbar Güreş, Seda Hepsev, Ceren Oykut, Ekin Saçlıoğlu, Gözde İlkin, Güneş Terkol, AtılKunst

The 253-page exhibition catalogue Dream and Reality includes texts by İstanbul Modern Chief Curator Levent Çalıkoğlu, Prof. Fatmagül Berktay (İstanbul University), Assist. Prof. Burcu Pelvanoğlu (Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University), Prof. Ayla Ödekan (İstanbul Technical University), and Assist. Prof. Ahu Antmen (Marmara University).

A selection of work produced for more than a century

The press conference for the exhibition Dream and Reality was attended by some artists featured in the exhibition: Arzu Başaran, AtılKunst (Gülçin Aksoy, Yasemin Nur Toksoy, Gözde İlkin), Aydan Murtezaoğlu, Azade Köker, CANAN, Canan Dağdelen, Ceren Oykut, Ekin Saçlıoğlu, Elif Çelebi, Gözde İlkin, Gül Ilgaz, Gülay Semercioğlu, Gülsün Karamustafa, Handan Börüteçene, İpek Duben, Kezban Arcan Batıbeki, Meriç Hızal, Nancy Atakan, Nezaket Ekici, Nil Yalter, Nur Koçak, Şükran Moral and Tomur Atagök. Also some of the exhibition curators attended Levent Çalıkoğlu, Zeynep İnankur, and Burcu Pelvanoğlu; Chair of the Board of İstanbul Modern Oya Eczacıbaşı; and Dr. Erdal Karamercan, CEO of the exhibition’s sponsor the Eczacıbaşı Group.

Chair of the Board of İstanbul Modern Oya Eczacıbaşı stated that by conveying the work of women artists from the early 1900s to our day the show Dream and Reality brings into consideration Turkey’s social, sociological, and cultural transformation.

Oya Eczacıbaşı said that the selection brought together by curators reminds us of women’s visibility in art and their position in the history of art: "Starting with the pioneering courageous, strong and passionate women artists who fought for their ideals but are now in danger of being forgotten, the exhibition presents the success story that continues through to the modernist period and the women artists shaping contemporary art today."

Eczacıbaşı added that through a consideration of women’s identity in the art world, the show reveals Turkey’s social, sociological and cultural transformation, and the great variety, originality and richness of art produced by women. Eczacıbaşı stressed that the activities to be held in conjunction with the show would provide a matchless platform to assess the works of women artists in various fields of the arts and to bring their problems into consideration.

Indicating that the İstanbul Biennials have contributed to the international visibility of artistic production by women in Turkey, Eczacıbaşı added that with the exhibition Dream and Reality held concurrently with the 12th İstanbul Biennial this year, the museum offers a selection of works by 74 women artists produced over a period of more than a century.

Oya Eczacıbaşı reminded us that İstanbul Modern represents the transformation of a 17-year dream into reality: "Long before we realized this dream, Fahrelnissa Zeid’s daughter, Shirin Devrim, donated to us a painting by her mother entitled My Hell on the firm belief that we would one day establish our museum. The painting is now one of İstanbul Modern’s showpiece works. For this reason, hosting the Dream and Reality exhibition in İstanbul Modern has a distinctive meaning and value for us."

Dr. Erdal Karamercan, CEO of the exhibition’s sponsor the Eczacıbaşı Group, said that they are proud to contribute to this exhibition "which assembles, for the first time, artwork in diverse disciplines by 74 women artists in Turkey from the early 20th century to the present."

Karamercan stated: "Through their own lives and observations, the lives of others they have witnessed, and their work, the women artists in this exhibition provide us a unique insight into Turkey’s gender history."

Adding that as the Eczacıbası Group they strongly believe that a sustainable future is only possible if women actively participate in every domain of life, Karamercan said: "On the eve of our Group’s 70th anniversary, we are particularly delighted to make it possible for you to enjoy the exhibition Dream and Reality, which presents the works of women artists from the beginning of Turkey’s modernization process to the present."

A quest for originality and reality

İstanbul Modern Chief Curator and one of the curators of the exhibition Levent Çalıkoğlu stresses in his catalogue article that the show "points towards, along with many other references and via a form of art, the desires of women and female artists in Turkey to position themselves in a historical context, and their search for reality in the social, cultural and political world of today."

Çalıkoğlu mentions that the exhibition problematizes, through visual examples, how the metaphor of dream in the female identity, deemed appropriate for it by the founding male structure, transforms into reality; and the place within today’s contemporary art culture of the relationship female artists form with various strata of reality through their works. Çalıkoğlu writes: "If we add to this context art’s problematic and complex relationship with dream and reality, it may become possible for us to sense the intense and multilayered references in the works of female artists."

Çalıkoğlu points out that saying "woman artist" opens for discussion the presence of many conditions arising within Turkey; Çalıkoğlu adds that the exhibition does not focus only on woman artists and the problems of women, nor does it singularly investigate the profound traces of the fragility ascribed to being a woman, or the fertility that finds its source as a natural essence in their bodies: "Quite the contrary, the female artists in the exhibition have been brought together because of the unique nature of the diversity of their production. Individuality, the close ties they have formed with the social and cultural history of Turkey and the care and success they have shown in positioning themselves are just a few of the criteria in their selection for this exhibition."

Çalıkoğlu stresses that in the contemporary art environment of the last twenty years, there is an active predominance of female artists, and their critical identity spearheads the period: "Although it would not be altogether realistic to argue that women in Turkey have been fully liberated in the social, economic and cultural sense, female artists have, in their search for reality and originality in the last 30 years, opened a new space first in the art environment of Turkey as an established field of power and then within the power relationships of the international art environment."

A mirror of diversity and depth

Exhibition curator Fatmagül Berktay indicates that the exhibition Dream and Reality holds a mirror of depth and diversity not only to the problem of modernization in Turkey, but also, interwoven with this problem, to the struggle to become subjects in their own right by women who find themselves immersed in these issues, and their reaction to the restrictions imposed upon them. In her catalogue article Berktay writes: "Although what we see in this mirror can often trigger a deep pang of sadness and anxiety, it also reveals a courageous adventure and invites us to criticize and change the situation at hand."

A symbol of modernization

In her catalogue article "Women and women’s education from the Ottoman period to the Republican era" exhibition curator Burcu Pelvanoğlu mentions that the fact that a majority of the women artists who continued their studies went to work abroad shows us that not enough space was given to female painters of that period in Turkish art circles. Pelvanoğlu stresses that by the time the Republic was founded, as was the case during the Westernization period, women were turned into a symbol of modernization: "Women became part of the public domain, and thus were shown in the works of female artists. Women’s educational role as mothers and teachers was emphasized during this period. They were given a genderless identity, and thus, by also aiming to change the West’s image of the Oriental woman, there was an attempt to convey the message that women had not been pushed into the private sphere of men."

They themselves changed while also altering the climate

Ahu Antmen, in her catalogue article, states that women artists who made their new quests felt in the 1970s started to become more visible by the 1980s and more influential by the 1990s; during the process that spanned from the 1970s to the 2000s, while women artists themselves changed they also contributed to the altering of the climate: "Women who can be considered as the pioneers of contemporary art today in Turkey have been seeking a new artistic language instead of creating variations on the dominant approaches in art; they have ensured their visibility, not within the context of a feminist art movement as in the West, but through their artistic tendencies which project individually their diverse areas of interest."

Ahu Antmen expresses that when we look through today’s window it is possible to assert that throughout the transformation process that spans from the late 1970s to the present women artists have been just as influential as male artists and even that at times they played a more important role: "It is evident that while during the time a formalist modernist line dominated art women were virtually condemned to the background, during the postmodern phase, quite to the contrary, they acquired a more influential position. In a modernist environment that had placed painting and the form-based tradition of peinture on the uppermost level women turned to photography, drawing, installation, performance, and video, and as they turned to these genres, in which they participated in production on more equal grounds, they opened fault lines in the art scene that would influence the younger generations. Setting aside the fact that they turned to new materials and techniques within the plurality brought on by the postmodern phase, women artists who were nourished from a strong interest in social and historical problems have played an important part in the diversification of content and in the enrichment of the repertoire of subject matter in Turkish art."


Throughout the course of the exhibition Dream and Reality activities will be held under various headings including panels, symposia, and workshops. Besides talks with the show’s curators, artists, and art critics, writers, artists, and critics will join the audience in rendez-vous about visual arts, music, literature, film, theater, caricature, design, and architectural and urban culture.

• Free workshops entitled "Just Between Us" will be held for the female audience who will find the opportunity to get together with the artists. In the workshops, which will be held monthly on Thursdays, participants are given the opportunity to meet some of the artists featured in the exhibition Dream and Reality, have brief talks with them on the creative process, and make art with the artists. In workshop programs which they will design personally for the "Just Between Us" artists Arzu Başaran, Güneş Terkol, Gül Ilgaz, and the art group Atılkunst (Gözde İlkin, Gülçin Aksoy, Yasemin Nur Toksoy) will make art with the female audience.

• For İstanbul Modern Cinema Derya Alabora has prepared a selection of films entitled "Dream and Reality" featuring women directors, actresses or film characters who are landmarks in Turkish cinema. Talks will also be held in conjunction with the film program.

Activities accompanying the exhibition

• In tandem with the exhibition Dream and Reality the İstanbul Modern Education and Social Projects Department, with the support of the education sponsor Garanti Bank, will carry out an educational program entitled "Chasing Dreams" specially designed for children of different age groups, and will organize free art workshops addressing children, youths, and families. The program invites children, youths, and families to follow the artists in the exhibition and discover their imaginary worlds, transferring their own dreams to objects, performance art, pictures, and toy designs and models using organic materials. The program includes the workshops "Colorful Portraits" for 4-6 year-olds, "Fairytale Maps" for 7-9 year-olds, "The Five States of Objects" for 10-12 year-olds, and "Paper Furniture" for 13-16 year-olds. Furthermore, families who wish to participate in artistic activities with their children can join the workshops "Child’s Play" and "Little Boxes" in the program Art in the Family. All workshops are free of charge.

• With the contributions of CNN Turk a making-of documentary of the exhibition was done also including interviews with the curators and artists.

• In the exhibition Uncanny Encounters, held at the İstanbul Modern Photography Gallery simultaneously with Dream and Reality, six women artists of the younger generation in Turkey take up the concept of "the uncanny" and at the same time explore the possibilities offered by photography and new ways of exhibiting.

• The İstanbul Modern Library will feature books and various resources related to the lives and works of the artists in the show.

• The İstanbul Modern Store will offer an array of giftware derived from the works of the artists.