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Multicultural aspects of the art scene


The ethnic richness of Turkey is not properly reflected in the field of contemporary art. Visual arts has been the field of privileged groups for a long time. Because there is no support mechanism for artists in the form of funds or subsidies, and because the support for low income groups in general is minimal, only richer individuals can take the risk of a career in art. However since the 1990s, artists coming from different roots have begun to enter the art field. Kurdish artists coming from economically less developed regions of Turkey were the most visible group amongst these artists. One of the main themes in Turkish art of the ‘90s was the challenge of racial nationalism, militaristic culture and national identity. This movement was led by a group of artists with Kurdish origins who were instrumental in drawing international attention to the Kurdish situation in the South-east of Turkey. The Works of Halil Altındere in the ‘90s displayed various facets of ethnic identity through a series of photographs and videos that involved self-portraiture.” Şener Özmen, another Kurdish contemporary artist in Diyarbakır, deals with similar subjects through both his works and books.


Some other projects used art as a communal transformation tool and aimed at multicultural collaboration inside Turkey. Projects like this usually focused on certain issues: related problems such as rural-urban migration, the integration problems caused by this (sometimes involuntary = internal refugee, fleeing from East to West Turkey due to armed conflicts in the South East) immigration, substance addiction, lack of education, and domestic violence. The European Union-backed “Tarlabaşı Toplum Merkezi” was opened in Tarlabaşı in 2007 by the Istanbul Bilgi University Centre for Migration Research. In this center various art projects that aimed at mixing different ethnic, religious and social groups have been carried out. The center also focused on education for children, youth, and women. The English Consulate supported the Creative Drama Work project and the Consulate General of the Netherlands supported a rhythm workshop there. Detailed information about the center can be accessed from http://www.tarlabasi.org and http://goc.bilgi.edu.tr. Information about similar projects such as organized by the Başak Culture and Art Foundation can be accessed via http://www.basaksanatvakfi.org.tr.

Art production has also taken on the multicultural question posed by migration outside of Turkey in the last 10 years. Many artists live and work in both Turkey and in other countries. Ahmet Öğüt, who was born in Diyarbakır and now lives in the Netherlands, is one of these artists. He is asked for solo and group exhibitions everywhere in the world. Kutluğ Ataman is a contemporary artist, who lives in London and has exhibitions in many countries, who has taken part in the Istanbul Biennial, Documenta 11 and the Gotenburg Bienniael. Fikret Atay, who was born in Batman but has lived in France since 2003, is another artist exhibiting at important exhibitions internationally. Cultural collaborations were executed in the past through a cultural bridge established between the Netherlands and Turkey. Some projects such as “Between the Waterfronts” which was a collaboration between Rotterdam and Istanbul in 2002 was supported by the Netherlands Turkey Foundation (Hollanda Türkiye Vakfı) and Stichting Trafik. Works of Turkish artists were presented in 14 exhibitions in Rotterdam by the curators Fulya Erdemci and Ron Mandos. Works of Dutch artists were displayed in Istanbul as a continuation of this project during the Istanbul Biennial in 2003. Artists that attended the exhibition were Hüseyin Bahri Alptekin, Halil Altındere, Beril Anılanmert, Cem Arık, Selda Asal, Nancy Atakan, Selim Birsel, Elif Çelebi, Manuel Çıtak, Paul Cox, Canan Dağdelen, Devrim Erbil, İnci Eviner, Candeğer Furtun, Mehmet Güleryüz, Şirin Iskit, Gülsün Karamustafa, Ömer Ali Kazma, Marjan Laaper, Suzy Hug Levy, Geert Mul, Aydan Murtezaoğlu, Kas Oosterhius & Ilona Lénárd, Füsun Onur, Lerzan Özer, Neriman Polat, Fuat Şahinler, Murat Şahinler, Ahmet Soysal, Gerco de Ruijter, Bülent Şangar, Rüçhan Şahinoğlu, Eser Selen, Maria Sezer-Michel, Mukadder Şimşek, Bert Sissingh, Hale Tenger, Nazif Topçuoğlu, Mürüvvet Türkyılmaz, Ömer Uluç, Ayşen Urfalıoğlu and Daniel Verkerk.

The project “Out of Nowhere” coordinated by Vasıf Kortun, Maaike van de Wiel and Gerrit Willems in 1999-2000 displayed the works of Halil Altındere, Hakan Gürsoytrak, Aydan Murtezaoğlu, Neriman Polat, Ebru Özseçen, Bülent Şangar, Canan Şenol, Hale Tenger and Vahit Tuna in the Centre for Beeldende Kunst Dordrecht, Centrum Beeldende Kunst Leiden and the Artotheek Schiedam.

Turkish artists who were born and raised abroad such as Fatih Akın, who works in the field of cinema and is a 3rd generation Turk in Germany, also contributed to the multicultural debate and cultural exchange. Hussein Chalayan, although he was born in a region with a Turkish identity: the North Cyprus Turkish Republic (KKTC), was raised in England. Artists of Armenian descent, such as Sarkis and Ara Güler, are internationally known artists, and their multi-cultural identity is reflected in their art.