Art biennale 'Saltwater' navigates turbulent Turkish times

Wed Oct 28, 2015 11:33am EDT
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By Ayla Jean Yackley

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Disparate ideas like a sea-borne zoo, an Aboriginal peace treaty and the lost birdsong of a ruined Armenian capital form a cohesive body of work at this year's Istanbul Biennial, a top international art show taking place in turbulent times.

"Saltwater: A Theory of Thought Forms," drafted by U.S.-based art historian Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, is inspired by the waterways that shape this ancient city, and the sprawling show set in 36 venues stretches from a Black Sea lighthouse to the island refuge of the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky.

The title evokes salt's dual nature to heal and corrode. "Salt is my way of speaking about power," she said. "Art does not belong to one side or the other. It serves a third: people."

The Istanbul Biennial, now in its 14th edition, opened in September against a backdrop of violence. Fighting between the Turkish army and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party that erupted suddenly in July wrecked a tenuous peace process.

A suicide bombing blamed on Islamic State killed 102 people in the capital this month ahead of an election on Nov. 1. War in Syria has sparked an influx of 2 million refugees, tens of thousands of whom have made the treacherous voyage to Europe.

The upheaval has not frightened off art crowds that reached a record 450,000 this week. They stop at bathhouses, hotels and garages in a kind of scavenger hunt for art through the city.

MESSAGES OF PEACE   Continued...

Visitors look at Anna Boghiguian's work "The Salt Traders" at the 14th Istanbul Biennial at Galata Greek Primary School in Istanbul, Turkey, October 28, 2015.  REUTERS/Murad Sezer