Neighbours – Contemporary Narratives from Turkey and Beyond

In the exhibition Neighbours: Contemporary Narratives from Turkey and Beyond, organized within the scope of its tenth year, the Istanbul Modernpresents an extensive selection of contemporary artworks from the vast geographical area of which Turkey is a part.

Sponsored by the Eczacıbaşı Group, the exhibition will be on view between January 9 and May 8, 2014. The show examines common approaches to visual culture in seventeen contiguous countries through the works of thirty-five artists. Neighbours brings together works by pioneering contemporary artists from places in the Balkans, Caucasia, and the Middle East that share historical, political, and cultural ties with Turkey. Rather than defining artists according to increasingly artificial national identities, the exhibition looks at how these practitioners convey local culture and experience in their work.

The exhibition is curated by Çelenk Bafra and Paolo Colombo from Istanbul Modern, with the assistance of regional art experts Negar Azimi, Zdenka Badovinac, and Magda Guruli.

Neighbourshas been supported by the Promotion Fund of the Prime Ministry and TAV Airports Holding, along with the Adam Mickiewicz Institute (Poland), the Mondriaan Fund (the Netherlands), the Ruya Foundation (Iraq), the Consulate General of Israel, the Embassy of the Republic of Slovenia, the Consulate General of Greece, and Antalis Turkey.

The exhibition focuses on work relating to or employing the vernacular of today’s art practice, particularly narrative, oral tradition, and popular theater—forms that lie at the heart of social interaction and express individual voices within the public arena. Neighbours looks at how deeply rooted social customs such as spectacles and celebrations have seeped into the visual arts to inform the work of contemporary artists from this diversified and historically interconnected area. The exhibition addresses the themes of storytelling and travel, common denominators in the cultures and arts of the region. These two themes are invoked in many works, along with the notions of mobility, nomadism, migration, and itinerancy and nuances of language, translation, and cultural transmission, among others.

An essential element of culture and civilization, narrative is found in virtually every form of human creativity. The artists in the exhibition often research and produce in various fields, presenting a “polyphonic company or orchestra of narratives” that hones in on a pluralistic narrative spirit. The nomadic nature of many of the region’s communities is reflected in the artists’ works in narratives characterized by mobility and displacement; their cultures and histories have been carried along largely through oral and visual accounts. Thus the concepts of journey and narrative are intrinsically intertwined.

While Neighbours features the formal genres of performance and spectacle, it also treats disciplines developed outside academic art circles, such as caricature and traditional crafts. Today we still see the influence in the visual arts of shadow theater, and of a cultural tradition that spread among local people via the itinerant aşık (traveling bard) and meddah (public storyteller).

An extensive schedule of activities has also been prepared alongside Neighbours, including screenings, performances, panels, talks, and workshops dedicated to the region’s art and culture. Organized by assistant curator Birnur Temel, the program “Come Again?” will screen the works of thirteen artists in a specially designed video room within the main exhibition.

Artists featured in the exhibition are: Abdülcanbaz (Turhan Selçuk), Furat al Jamil, Mounira Al Solh, Maja Bajevic, Sonia Balassanian, Vesna Bukovec, CANAN, Eteri Chkadua, Ana Čigon, Rena Effendi, Nezaket Ekici, Cevdet Erek, Adib Fattal (Installation: The Museum of Everything), Mona Hatoum, Hamlet Hovsepyan, Gül Ilgaz, Babak Jalali, Lamia Joreige, Hayv Kahraman, Hatice Karadağ, Sevdalina Kochevska, Pavlos Nikolakopoulos, One Square Meter (ACCEA: One Square Meter Theater Festival), Fahrettin Örenli, Adrian Paci, Michail Pirgelis, Younès Rahmoun, Yehudit Sasportas, Wael Shawky, Slavs and Tatars, Aslı Sungu, Nasra Şimmes, Burcu Yağcıoğlu, Nil Yalter, Živadinov::Zupančič::Turšič


Firsts in the Exhibition

  • As a result of research carried out in Istanbul for Neighbours, art collective Slavs and Tatars was invited by Istanbul Modern to create a new work. The installation Nose Twister, which includes a voice recording of Rüştü Asyalı, incorporates a seating area for viewers. For many years Slavs and Tatars has been examining the politics of language in Eurasia and exploring Turkic languages in regions such as China, particularly its autonomous Xinjiang region, and Turkey. Through the present work the duo reminds us of the Eastern origins of the Turkish language.
  • CANAN has produced a new video for the exhibition called Delusion, in which the artist recounts the inner journey of a young woman who lives in Istanbul, in her own voice. In this work she responds to the oral tradition of Turkey and the surrounding region with a love story that ends in madness.
  • Cevdet Erek’s Black with White is presented as a new narrative of works that arose from an artistic adventure centered in Istanbul with stops in Amsterdam, Cairo, Antwerp, Beirut, Pori, and other places.
  • The conceptual framework of Eteri Chkadua’s painting, exhibited for the first time in Neighbours, emerged just prior to the five-day war between Georgia and Russia in 2008. By depicting a large dinner table called Ormotsi (“forty”), which is set forty days after a burial in the Caucasus, In Blackdisplays how a tradition is translated in our day and how the past is preserved through this transformation.


A region with a rich cultural scene

Colombo stresses that although Neighbours seeks to represent the infinite creativity of a vast area that extends from Turkey north to the Balkans and Caucasus and south to the Middle East, “It has been very hard not to include a large number of works that would have fit wonderfully in the show. We were submerged by quality, by wonderful narratives, by original and unique ‘stories’ that have been told in the most exceptional ways. Our curatorial quandaries derived from the region's artistic wealth, selecting from the many interesting works that are a testimony to the talent, vision, and intensity of the artists who are neighbors.”

Bafra notes that beyond offering a simple selection of artworks from these neighboring regions, the exhibition points to the attempt to understand the cultural contiguity in our geographical area: “Throughout history the region’s art and culture are so pervaded with storytelling that this narrative spirit was always with us as we established the conceptual framework of the exhibition. Narratives are featured in the exhibition not just orally or visually but as performance and spectacle, which are an integral part of social life in the region. We especially included narratives that treat of the theme of the journey in this geography, where the fate of individuals and communities has been shaped by compulsory or voluntary displacement. We could say that for the exhibition we too embarked on a curatorial adventure abounding with research expeditions and diverse narratives; hopefully the stories we encountered along the way will duly reflect the visual culture and diversity of the region.”

Oya Eczacıbaşı states that this vast geography, once shaped by the sociocultural and political influence of the Ottoman Empire, has now caught the attention of the global art world: “Not only does the museum assume an influential role in the transformation of this geography in terms of historical legacy, it also attempts to act as a mediator for the common context and the associations between borders and identities. In the past ten years Istanbul Modern has proved to be one of the foremost museums of modern art in the region, and with this first comprehensive regional exhibition it brings together the contemporary art of the surrounding countries to reveal their shared memory and sensitivity as well as their deep-rooted ties.” Eczacıbaşı also indicates that following Neighbours, Istanbul Modern would continue to undertake initiatives that reflect the shared memory associated with cultural identity, history, and art as well as reveal the interaction between artists: “We aim to expand this dialogue and keep it fresh with talks, artist programs, pop-up exhibitions, and institutional collaborations. We believe that by creating new possibilities in contemporary art, which is an important mediator for different cultures to meet in a globalizing world, Istanbul Modern will contribute to art’s power to influence our lives. Through the exhibition, which has been under preparation for the last two years, we wish to offer a reminder that Istanbul is a major world capital of art and culture and to ensure that it maintains this role in a consistent manner.”

Speaking on behalf of the Eczacıbaşı Group, which has embraced a sustainable approach to social responsibility and has supported the arts and culture for more than seventy years, Dr. Erdal Karamercan states that the company was proud to be a sponsor of the exhibition Neighbours: “In this day and age of rapid change facilitated by advanced information and communication technologies, when global trends have lifespans of months and the order of the day can shift in minutes, it is hard to overstate the value and continuity of Istanbul Modern’s unwavering contribution to culture, art, and thought in Turkey and the region over the last decade. Ten years ago Istanbul Modern set out on a journey to reveal the unique history and cultural heritage of Istanbul, Turkey, and its neighbors. The Eczacıbaşı Group has been at the museum’s side from the very start and is proud to support opportunities that spur sharing, new forms of thinking, creation, and cooperation in contemporary art and embrace social and cultural differences.”

Exhibition events

Throughout the course of the exhibition Neighbours, screenings, performances, panels, and talks will be held dedicated to the region’s art and culture.

  • One of the projects of the exhibition Neighbours is a festival concept called One Square Meter. Created by the ACCEA- Armenian Centre for Contemporary Experimental Art in Yerevan, Armenia, this festival consists of shows and performances in which everything is presented on a one-square-meter stage and with a time limit of 45 minutes. These performances and events point to the creativity of the verbal and bodily forms of expression in the visual, literary, and auditory arts and to how, despite the restrictiveness of the space, they know no limits. Istanbul Modern borrows the concept by setting the same one-square-meter stage in the very middle of the exhibition hall during the entire course of the exhibition Neighbours.
  • One Square Meter Theater Festival begins on Thursday, January 9 between18:00 and 20:00 by hosting the shows of four separate theater groups invited from Armenia by ACCEA artistic directors. Throughout the course of the exhibition it will continue hosting free special shows and events from Turkey and the surrounding region.
  • In conjunction with the exhibition, Istanbul Modern’s Education and Social Projects Department will carry out the special educational program Visual Stories for children, youths, and families. Prepared with the contributions of Education Sponsor Garanti Bank and based on the works of the artists featured in the exhibition, the program will run between January 9-May 8, 2014.
  • This program invites children to look at a work of art in a brand new light, paint cityscapes with colorful motifs, make Abdülcanbaz puppets, and act out old proverbs. Moreover, during the program, children and their families will have the opportunity to create a fairytale world, or paint handkerchiefs and play the practically extinct “grab the handkerchief” street game. The educational program Visual Stories will be offered every day of the week except Mondays for school groups and on weekends for individual children, youths, and families.
  • Activities in the educational program Visual Stories include: A Painting within Painting for 4-5 year-olds, based on an art work consisting of thirty puzzle pieces which Pavlos Nikolakopoulos designed especially for children; Festival of Colors for 6-7 year-olds, in which compositions are designed using elements of miniature art, based on the works of Syrian artist Adib Fattal; Abdülcanbaz’s Puppets for 8-10 year-olds, in which heroes of the comics Abdülcanbaz, designed by Turhan Selçuk in the late 1950s, turn into puppets; Scribbling for 11-13 year-olds, which focuses on Mounira Al Solh’s video The Mute Tongue in which nineteen proverbs are acted out; and The Building of Fairytales for 3-5 year-olds and their families and Grab the Handkerchief for 6-10 year-olds and their families, inspired by the works of Nasra Şimmes, one of the last exponents of the traditional art of woodblock printingon fabric.
  • A program entitled Neighbour Films will be screened in April at Istanbul Modern Cinema in conjunction with the exhibition. The program consists of films from the geographical area that includes Turkey and its neighbors. Comprised of movies from the Middle East to the Balkans with an increasing visibility on the world stage because of the global media,  Neighbour Films examine social and cultural changes accelerated by the new world order, local attitudes, national identity, settling historical accounts, and modernization.
  • Istanbul Modern Store offers various items produced with an inspiration from the themes and works of the artists in the exhibition Neighbours. The museum store, Point Hotel Barbaros store and the online store present exhibition catalogues and accessories that reflect the theme of the exhibition, along with objects inspired by the works of the artists.


Exhibition Catalog and Publications

The catalog of Neighbours includes texts by exhibition curators as well as reviews on the art and culture of the Middle East, Balkans, and Caucasus by art advisors Negar Azimi, Zdenka Badovinac, and Magda Guruli. The 192-page catalog was published in Turkish and English and also includes interviews with the artists by curators, stories penned by the artists, and texts and images of the projects in the exhibition.

Within the scope of the exhibition, thanks to collaboration with prominent institutions of the region, exchange of publications was carried out with 10 institutions from 8 countries. Through this collaboration, Istanbul Modern Library acquired new publications with the contributions of institutions in the region, including, among others: YARAT (Azerbaijan); the Association Biennial of Contemporary Art, Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina); Beirut Art Center (Lebanon); Moderna Galerija, Ljubljana (Slovenia); the Benaki Museum (Greece); Cluster (Egypt); the Contemporary Image Collective (Egypt); the Yerevan Modern Art Museum (Armenia); the Armenian Center for Contemporary Experimental Art (Armenia); and Sazmanab (Iran). Istanbul Modern Library is at the disposal of visitors seeking detailed information about art in the region.

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