For the first time ever, this year’s 13th edition Istanbul Biennal, will take on connotations strongly related to current events and social and political phenomena that have been occuring throughout Turkey. For Istanbul, it would be impossible to separate art from politics, especially in the wake of the summer of fire that followed the protests in Gezi Park.
Curator Fulya Erdemci announced January 8th at a press conference which was held at the Campus of the University ITU Istanbul Maçka, the title of the 13th Istanbul Biennial will be: “Mom, am I a barbarian?” Referring to the book of the same name written by poet Lale Müldür. (This is seemingly suspicious , even if the reference does reflect on the fact that civil society has long been harboring malaise towards the government for continuing to abuse both their own power and their citizens).
At a press conference earlier this year, curator Fulya Erdemci said that the theme of the Biennale would have been the concept of public space intended as a political forum. This idea, which is strongly challenged by authoritarian government will, in the words of the curator, “form a matrix to generate ideas and develop practices that call into question the contemporary forms of democracy, challenge current models of economic policy, and highlight the role of art in this context”.
Questioning the concept of ” barbarian” is more relevant than ever before, since the Prime Minister used the word ” çapulcu ” (hooligan/vandal/robber) to identify people who protested for the protection of Gezi Park. Interstingly, the same word is now used by the demonstrators who have contributed their creative force to the Biennale to represent both irony and defiance. It is a general rule but especially relevant to Turkey and notable to the visitors of this year’s Biennale: Art must be able to provide space for new subjectivities, even ifand especially when they conflict with more dominant powers. Art must give a voice to those who do not have one… the odd, the deviant, the weak, the crazy. The thirteenth Istanbul Biennial aims to do this. For this reason, among the 88 guest artists of the Biennale, the majority will be from less privileged geographical realities, such as South America, North Africa, the Middle East, Turkey, etc.
As declared by the curator on June 9th, ” The resistance movement that began with the uprooting of a tree on May 27, resulting in the brutal attack by police and the gun fire into the crowds of activists, is evolving at a national level. A great demonstration of solidarity. This peaceful youth movement that is visionary, strives for change, and has an open and honest view of the world, is a movement that should be an example for all of us. The artists are learning and will continue to learn from this protest. ”
In accordance with the basic concept of the Biennale, initially the idea was to use buildings and public spaces as venues: courts, schools, military facilities, post offices, railway stations, former industrial sites, warehouses, shipyards, squares and parks. However, following the events of June, it was decided that there would be a change in direction. In fact, the curators did not want to ask permission for the use of public spaces from the very authorities who suppressed dissent in defense of those same public spaces with violence.
Therefore, there will only be five places to host the Biennale: Antrepo no.3 in Tophane, the Greek Elementary School, Galata and SALT galleries ARTER Istiklal, the gallery in 5533 Unkapani. The list of the 88 participating artists will be announced only during the opening ceremony, to emphasize the integrity of exposure and to prevent from only spotlighting the most celebrated artists.
The Istanbul Biennial has taken place since 1987 and is regarded as one of the most prestigious biennials. It is aligned in prestige to that of Venice, Sao Paolo and Sydney. It promotes an exhibition model that allows a dialogue between artists and the public through the work of artists, rather than a national model of representation. The Istanbul Biennial is ‘organized by the foundation IKSV and is sponsored by Koç Holding.
Importantly, attendance is totally free. The project aims to remain faithful to a vision of public space that allows maximum accessibility to all. For further information please consult the official website.