I’m settling in Istanbul, planning my visit in a fast-moving environment. I feel lucky to have found a comfortable, low-key apartment in Beyoğlu. It’s hidden away on a quiet, cobblestone sidestreet, minutes from a hotbed of activity on Istiklal Avenue.
I’ll be here through June, departing for Athens July 2. The most noise I’ve heard from the apartment is seagulls gathering in the morning and evening sharing their news – some have more to say than others.
Istiklal is a mix of street musicians, souks, cafés, restaurants, pricey designer clothing shops, and electronics businesses. The traditional sidestreets are much more interesting. I stumbled on a cozy looking restaurant and stopped to read the menu – never do that in Istanbul, unless you want to be hustled. After walking most of the day, I was hungry and an easy target.
Asmali Saki Meyhanesi
The restaurant – Asmali Saki Meyhanesi – turned out to be one of the best in the area. Meyhane is the Turkish word for “tavern”. The atmosphere was comfortable, and the meal divine – from the meze (starter) of warm pita slices served with a yoghurt, dill, spinach dip, to a tabbouleh-like salad, roasted potatoes and vegetables, and the best lamb chops I’ve ever eaten! Desert was fresh watermelon and cherries – both flavorful and ripened to perfection. I had a glass of Yakut – a dry red Turkish wine – with my meal which was served slightly chilled. Despite almost zero English being spoken, the service was excellent, and the tab of $20 – unbelievable!
On the way back to my apartment, I noticed lots of street activity – music, dancing, and feisty merrymakers. The “polis” are quick to clear large gatherings, and they do so without violence. I’ve noticed that crowds often must be dispersed more than once, but eventually, give it up and don’t persist.
Istanbul is under a “gradual normalization period to stop the spread of covid-19″. The curfew period lasts from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Saturday. There’s a full lockdown on Sunday, beginning at 10 p.m. Saturday night and ending at 5 a.m. on Monday. In Istanbul, the Islamic call to prayer (Adhan) occurs six times a day, and on Sundays seems especially vivid. Supposedly, Istanbul curfews don’t apply to tourists, but so far, I haven’t been out after 10 p.m.
History Istanbul Modern
Istanbul Modern, also known as the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, is the “first public museum in Turkey to host modern and contemporary art exhibitions”. The history of Istanbul Modern is connected closely to Nejat Eczacıbaşı of the prominent Turkish Eczacıbaşı Family. His keen interest in contemporary art prompted him to pursue a place where it could be exhibited in Turkey.
New Istanbul Modern Building Karaköy
Finding the right location for the museum took years. In 2003, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave approval for an old warehouse in the Karaköy neighborhood, near Beyoğlu and Mimar Sinan Fine Art University, to become the new museum.
Currently, the 8,000 sq. meter (86,000 sq. ft.) building is being renovated, with completion scheduled later this year. Since 2018, the museum occupies temporary space in Beyoğlu. Exhibitions appear on four floors with artworks from the 20th century to present, including photography, paintings, sculptures, videos, and multi-media displays.
“Most of the works exhibited in the Istanbul Modern are from the famous Eczacıbaşı family’s private collection.”
I thoroughly enjoyed the museum, but admit to having a few favorites. The artworks attached to this post are captioned the best I could manage. Some are simply labeled in association with the overall title of the exhibition. These are favorites:
- Şakir Eczacıbaşı Selected Moments
- Fahrelnissa Zeid
- Selma Gürbüz The Place We Call World
- Tomur Atagök
Şakir Eczacıbaşı Photographer
Şakir Eczacıbaşı, a prominent businessman and photographer, is a member of the Eczacıbaşı family. In his business career, he was general manager of Eczacıbaşı Pharmaceuticals, chairman of the Executive Committee of the Eczacıbaşı Group, and chairman of Eczacıbaşı Holdings. His photography exhibit, Selected Moments, marks the 10th anniversary of his passing. Some photographs were projected on gallery walls, in a continually changing multi-media slideshow.
The exhibition “reflects streets Eczacıbaşı described as places where we’re in our natural state”. Photos illustrate the “multi-layered structure of Anatolian geography”, which has “hosted many civilizations for thousands of years”. Eczacıbaşı’s photographs “feature the artist’s human-centered works and search for universal communication”.
Born in Izmir in 1929, Eczacıbaşı studied at the University of London School of Pharmacy. He was also a journalist and published two magazines, the famous Art Leaf (Sanat Yaprağı) and Novelties in Medicine (Tıpta Yenilikler). Eczacıbaşı organized photography exhibitions in Turkey and several western countries. His books include Anlar/Moments (1983), Colors of Turkey (1997), and Doors and Windows (2001).
Artist Fahrelnissa Zeid trained in Paris and Istanbul and was an “important figure in the Turkish avant-garde art movement of the early 1940s”. Born into an intellectual Ottoman family, “young Fahrinnisa Shakir Kabaağaçli was among the first pupils at the Istanbul Women’s Fine Arts Academy”.
Fahrelnissa Zeid’s “vibrant abstract paintings are a synthesis of Islamic, Byzantine, Arab, and Persian influences fused with European approaches to abstraction”.
Zeid experimented with “painting on turkey and chicken bones” and “cast in polyester resin panels evocative of stained-glass windows”. Zeid’s “obsession with line and dazzling color” is illustrated in her exhibit at Istanbul Modern.
Selma Gürbüz’s exhibition, This Place We Call World, is very beautiful! Her “mysterious world” focuses on “symbols and stories about humanity, nature, and life”. Her creative “human-animal hybrid beings and genderless figures seem to belong to another world, defined by the black shadows she frequently uses in her works”. Plant and animal depictions create Gürbüz’s “playful, mischievous, and unique style”.
After a trip to Africa, Gürbüz’s paintings began “visualizing the intersecting lives of humans and animals in the sometimes-menacing nature of the African continent”. Her paintings have been exhibited in Japan, Paris, Rome, Buenos Aires, and Barcelona, and are in collections at the British Museum London, Galerie Maeght Collection Paris, Istanbul Modern, and Ankara Painting and Sculpture Museum. I’m not an art critic or expert, but found her work especially fascinating and include several photos in this post.
Istanbul born Tomur Atagök was educated in the US, at Cal Berkeley and other universities. After graduation, she became Assistant Director of Mimar Sinan University Museum of Painting and Sculpture and the Head of Culture, Press, and Public Relations at Yıldız Technical University. Atagök founded and chaired the only Museum Studies Graduate Program in Turkey. She’s a trailblazer and considers herself a “feminist artist”. Her works include Goddesses and Ordinary Women and other interesting pieces.
Trying to remember all the info displayed in museums makes me a little crazy. However, this one was especially interesting from the standpoint of learning about respected women artists in Turkey.