The Coup and Political Volatility Wouldn’t mar the Çanakkale Biennale in Turkey
To say that Turkey is going through some trying and turbulent times would perhaps be an understatement. The coup that failed and its repercussions and an increasing security alarm especially after the attacks at the Istanbul airport are just some of the unfortunate events that have marred this beautiful city. This, however has not deterred the organizers of Çanakkale Biennale’s fifth edition in Turkey to go ahead with the event in September as scheduled.
Beral Madra, the general director for the show recently said that the organization is determined even under the volatility of the current scenario to bring this biennial to reality. It is quite natural for some artists to decline to be physically present, but they would definitely be represented by their works in the same. The organization puts its faith and trust in the discretion and resolve of the people especially and of the authority figures who stand by the biennial as a product and reflection of democracy.
She further added that when we look at the event flow of the 20th century in Turkey, the generations that were born in the 1940s and 50s have witnessed a total of four military coups. In the past fifty years, however a momentous heritage of contemporary art and it is something that cannot just evaporate all of a sudden, while confessing at the same time that the art scene may be going through a stagnant and non-active period. With the support and participation of several artists from the European countries and the EU colleagues will only solidify the collaboration and solidarity and the achievements would also continue.
The focus of this biennial was planned to be on the tragedies of humanity like the future of the migrants and refugees and the concept of homeland instead of the prevalent political issues. Forty participants from the global community of whom many are immigrants themselves or belong to the family of immigrants would be participating in the same. The location for this biennial Çanakkale is a city on the southern side of the Dardanelles strait which is in proximity to the main route taken by the Syrian refugees across the Aegean Sea to Greece.
The chosen theme is strongly relevant to the country to the people of Turkey as the country is at the center of the current refugee crisis. Turkey, in the earlier times agreed to take on 3 million Syrian refugees and in March it took upon a controversial deal where it agreed to take back the migrants in exchange for financial aid.
With accolades like the curation of the 1987 and 1989 biennial under her belt, Madra has been responsible for organizing the Turkish pavilion at the Venice Biennial for quite a few years. She expresses her intention to collaborate with her colleagues and bring groups of Syrian refugees especially the artists and the intellectuals from Istanbul to attend the show.
It is the writings of Vilém Flusser, the Czech born refugee, philosopher and journalist that inspired the conception of biennial. Most of his family was annihilated in the holocaust and he was forced to spend most of his professional life in Brazil and in France. The Freedom of The Migrant, his book published in 1994 examined the practicality of a national identity in the times of progressively absorptive borders.
Among the new works that have been commissioned for the biennial is Aissa Deebi – a Palestinian artist’s multichannel video. This video explores the thirty years that have been spent in exile in US and in Europe. Some other artists and works worth mentioning in the biennial include Nevin Aladağ – the Turkish German artist, Akam Shex Hadi – the Iraqi artist whose works are related to Isil and the destiny of the refugees, and Kalliopi Lemos – the Greek artist whose work consists of public installations of a great scale with the theme pertaining to illegal migration.
The event has gained confidence and been planned with €200,000 coming from the host city of Çanakkale and the rest of the funding coming from the governments of Switzerland, US, and Sweden. The Armenian Church, a synagogue, and the Piri Reis Museum (named after an Ottoman admiral) would be the venues for the grand event in the city.
In Madra’s opinion, enduring investment in contemporary art from the private sector especially in the private museums in Istanbul and biennales in Sinopale, Çanakkale and Mardin remain critical and contribute to the “neo-capital” image that Turkey enjoys. It is this image and occurrence that the ruling politicians and the economy team can’t possibly ignore.