Turkish Contemporary Art- Turkish Contemporary Art
“A Different Similarity”exhibition of contemporary art, which includes presentations in Seoul and Istanbul, provides an opportunity to contemplate the mutual understanding between Korea and Turkey, as well as expectations and misconceptions.
Turkey is a country of geopolitical importance, located at the boundary of the European and Asian continents. It is also situated at an intersection of Christian and Islamic cultural influences, which have shaped Turkey’s complex history and diverse culture. The year 2007 marked the 50th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between Korea and Turkey, a staunch ally that dispatched some 15,000 troops to the Korean Peninsula during the Korean War. At the mention of Turkey, people might think of various images, like the Orient, Osman Turk, Silk Road, and sultans and their harems. But such stereotype images, mainly of the tourism industry, do not accurately convey the reality of Turkey today. Similar to the situations found in Europe, the U.S., and the Middle East, Turkey is confronted with ethnic tension, along with conflicting views related to political, social, and religious issues. As for Turkey, which is no longer a center of oriental culture or a sultanate, it is similar to Korea, in terms of its sensitivity to external developments.
Diversity of Contemporary Art
Organized by Pelin Uran, an independent curator from Turkey, the “A Different Similarity” exhibition sought to reexamine the mutual understanding between Korea and Turkey, as well as expectations and misconceptions. This contemporary art exchange ini t iat i ve features two separat e exhibitions, which are being staged in Seoul and Istanbul. With support from the Korea Foundation, the exchange project includes the participation of three curators from Turkey and Korea, seven Turkish artists, and ten Korean artists. Under the exchange arrangement, an exhibition of contemporary Turkish art has been presented at the Gallery Loop in Seoul, in December 2008, while a large-scale exhibition of the works of contemporary Korean artists will be held at Santralistabul in Istanbul, in June 2009. Entitled “A Different Similarity: Endgame,” the exhibition of contemporary Turkish art featured a variety of media and genres, including photography, video, and installation works, along with live performances, by seven Turkish artists selected by the Turkish curator. Of special note, Isil Egrikavuk and Ha Za Vu Zu, who visited Korea on the occasion of the Seoul exhibition, presented noteworthy works of performing arts at the exhibition venue.
Visitors to the exhibition who expected to see traditional images of Turkey might have been somewhat disappointed because the works on display did not feature any conventional characteristics or visual symbols of Turkey. As the Turkish curator sought to express through the “Endgame” subtitle of the exhibition, and in the catalogue preface, it is futile to attempt to categorize art works based on their geographical origin. As for the term “endgame,” which is often associated with chess, it implies that unexpected events or factors can ultimately determine victory or defeat. The exhibition thus attempted to point out that perception and understanding of other cultures was no easy matter which can be simply defined, concluded, or conveyed in words or terms, due to a complexity of underlying factors.
Rather than offering a brief introduction of the conventional characteristics of contemporary Turkish art, the exhibition in Seoul served as an occasion to focus on the interests, concerns, a n d d i l emma s o f a r t a n d l i f e , wh i c h t h e contemporary Turkish artists sought to express. Of course, diversity issues are not confined to only contemporary Turkish art. As for ways to introduce contemporary Korean art, there have been numerous attempts to define the essential characteristics of Korea’s contemporary art, and even now such efforts remain ongoing. In light of this situation, I found the recent exhibition of contemporary Turkish art exhibition to be a bold initiative that hoped to convey the boundless potential of such artistic pursuits, rather than being concerned with the imposition of any boundaries.
The June exhibition in Istanbul will feature the works of ten Korean artists: Kim Gi-ra, Bae Yeonghwan, Lee Se-hyeon, Im Min-uk, Jeong Yeondu, Mun Gyeong-won, Lee Yong-baek, Jeon Junho, Jin Gi-jong, and Hong Gyeong-taek. In effect, the show in Istanbul will be somewhat similar to the Turkish exhibition in Seoul, in regard to its presentation of diversity. After all, within the cultural and artistic spheres, variety and similarity maintain a complementary coexistence. Such diverse aspects stimulate and compete with each other to create universally definable similarities and differences, over a long period of time, as a result of a natural process of cultural evolution.
Therefore, no matters are more vexing to curators than questions about the criteria for defining the “Koreanness” aspects of contemporary Korean art. Participating artists should also join the curators in reflecting on this quandary. It is hoped that the contemporary Korean art exhibition will provide the Turkish audiences, who have not been exposed to Korea’s contemporary art, with an opportunity to experience its diversity and to gradually identify various similarities and differences, rather than being provided with textbook-style answers in so many words.