Wrecking ball sets tone for Istanbul art expo after protests

Thu Oct 17, 2013 1:10pm EDT
 
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By Ayla Jean Yackley

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Nothing better sums up the theme of this year's vast Istanbul Biennial exhibition of contemporary art than Turkish artist Ayse Erkmen's "bangbangbang" featuring a replica of a wrecking ball swinging from a crane.

The exhibit is outside a former customs warehouse on the Bosphorus Strait, one of the historic structures due to be redeveloped as part of the government's rush to modernize the ancient Ottoman capital.

Plans to also redevelop Gezi Park, one of the city's rare green spots, and build a replica of an Ottoman-era military barracks touched off street protests in May in Istanbul and other Turkish cities that left six dead and 8,000 injured.

As a response to the protests, plans to hold Turkey's biggest expo of contemporary art mostly at outdoor venues were dropped. Organizers moved the exhibits inside and scrapped entrance fees.

"Bringing the project inside was a genuine philosophical and artistic gesture," curator Fulya Erdemci said. "By withdrawing, we made a political statement. We said, 'Through our absence, we demonstrate our existence'."

The exhibition's title, "Mom, Am I Barbarian?", expresses the sense of alienation segments of Turkish society feel amid rapid political and economic change in a city of some 15 million people. Many of the works by almost 90 artists grapple with poverty, gentrification, city planning and migration.

The message of many of the pieces seems to have struck a chord. A record 270,000 people have visited the 13th edition of the Istanbul Biennial, which finishes on October 20.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is determined to leave his mark on the Istanbul cityscape, with grand plans for Turkey's biggest mosque atop a hill overlooking the Bosphorus, a third bridge linking its European and Asian shores and a shipping canal designed to rival Panama or Suez.   Continued...