LATIFA AKAY, İSTANBUL
Monday marked an encouraging day for Turkish-Greek relations with the opening of two significant İstanbul-based exhibitions, demonstrating a cooperation between the ministries of the two countries on a scale previously unseen in the higher arts sphere.
With a morning press conference having been held in the tranquil setting of the Sabancı University Sakıp Sabancı Museum (SSM) in Emirgan for the opening of the “Across — the Cyclades and Western Anatolia during the 3rd Millennium B.C.” exhibition, which displays interactions between western Anatolian and Greek civilizations dating back to the third millennium B.C., late afternoon marked the much-anticipated inauguration of the painting and iconography exhibition “Greek Painters of İstanbul at the Topkapı Palace,” held at the recently renovated Imperial Stables of the Topkapı Palace Museum.
Organized under the auspices of Turkish Minister of Culture Ertuğrul Günay and Patriarch Bartholomew, the exhibition, which will run until June 30, is based on curator Mayda Saris’ celebrated book “İstanbullu Rum Ressamlar/Greek Painters of İstanbul,” which takes an extensive look at Greek painters (Ottoman subjects) who were born or raised in İstanbul, bringing together carefully selected works from Greek Orthodox churches and private collections as well as the collections of Topkapı Palace, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and Halki Theological School.
Emphasizing the importance of overcoming prejudices and restoring tolerance and trust within Turkey’s different cultural groups, Günay stressed the value of preserving cultures in a secular society and having a wider view of human rights, explaining that the project is part of a wider effort to work together with villages and towns across Anatolia aiming to seek out and preserve artifacts and relics of all creeds. “Over the years Anatolian soil has been bequeathed with rich artistic legacies from those with not only Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Assyrian backgrounds but also many other ethnic groups. This results in a unique richness which we have a duty to preserve and pass on to the current generation,” he said.
Featuring works by 19th and early 20th-century painters such as Armenopoulos, Andoniades, Savvides, Scarlatos, Sofroniades, İgum, Flora-Karavia, Economides, Xanthopoulous, Michelidakes, Petridou and Platonides as well as the great Konstntinos Kyzikinos (Kapıdağlı Konstantin), the exhibition, divided on a thematic and chronological basis, comprises approximately 100 works including portraits of sultans and high-ranking Ottoman officials, portraits of hierarchs from the collection of the Halki Theological School, church icons and views of İstanbul.
Speaking out against the homogenization of society, Günay further commented, “Our culture recognizes the ‘Rum’ people as an Anatolian Christian Turkish group. Yet when translated, ‘Rum’ of course means ‘Greek,’ which refers to something outside the borders of Turkey and thus perhaps carries implications of foreignness or not belonging. In truth, of course, Rum is not something alien to Turkish culture; instead it refers to one of the many colors in our cultural rainbow, an indigenous Anatolian people present from the Ottoman period who are in no way alien to our culture or country. It is thus our firm objective to keep the flowers of these civilizations alive and flourishing, which is what these two exhibitions intend to foster and encourage. We see this as a positive step in the right direction with bigger and better things to follow.”
Patriarch Bartholomew added that “we [the Rum people] are part of Turkish society. We are not strangers here nor are we migrants; we were born and raised here, and along with Armenian and Syrian citizens are part of the rich and vibrant civilization of Turkey.”
A small gift shop in the gallery offers visitors the opportunity to pick up their own copy of Saris’s book along with a range of other souvenirs and memorabilia.