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Artists Pull Works from Istanbul Modern Over Censorship Claims

by Hrag Vartanian on December 29, 2011

Left, The reputedly censorship art work by Bubi Hayon, top right, a view of the Istanbul Modern, and, bottom right, a map of central Istanbul indicating the museum's location. (images via todayszaman.com, istanbuldeluxe.com and Google maps)

There are claims of censorship in Istanbul as eight artists and an artist collective have made a joint decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Modern museum’s ongoing Reality and Dream exhibition, which chronicles the works of female artists from Turkey since the 1900s. The controversy began when artist Bubi Hayon’s work was rejected during a charity auction for the Turkish museum then during a panel discussion at the museum earlier this week artist Mürüvvet Türkyılmaz announced that she would be withdrawing her work from the show in response to museum’s actions. The debate has since snowballed into a discussion about the role of contemporary art in Turkey and the problems associated with the fact that all major cultural institutions in the country are backed by corporate entities that lack transparency.

The matter has been percolating on Facebook and other social networks all week but numerous attempts by Hyperallergic to reach the artists for comment have so far proven unsuccessful.

Today, the Istanbul-based news source Today’s Zaman has published one of the first English-language articles on the controversy. They explain that Türkyılmaz has been joined by seven other artists (Ceren Öyküt, Gözde İlkin, Güneş Terkol, İnci Furni, Ekin Saçlıoğlu, Neriman Polat, Leyla Gediz) and one artist collective, AtılKunst, who have all requested that the museum remove their works from the exhibition.

According to Today’s Zaman:

Asked whether the museum will hand the artists their works of art back, İstanbul Modern’s chief curator Levent Çalıkoğlu told Today’s Zaman on Thursday that the museum “respects the decision of the artists and will act in accordance with their requests.”

A source close to the artists tells Hyperallergic that the artists are working on a press release now and it will be available shortly. The group has started a Turkish/English petition online and they are asking the museum to apologize to Hayon and the city’s art community as a whole.

Hürriyet Daily News reports that on December 27 a number of artists entered Istanbul Modern with a protest banner that read “There is censorship in this museum.” The reporter also spoke to the artist who gave a context for the claims of censorship:

“First Istanbul Modern requested a work, without telling me any concept. They told me that they wanted to exhibit the work during the gala night and then make the work a part of the exclusive catalogue,” Bubi (David Hayon) told the Hürriyet Daily News.

The artist says the museum informed him he free to create what he wanted:

Upon this request Hayon created a large seat with a bed pan in the middle of it.

“With this work I have criticized the general museum idea which came from 1900s,” said Hayon, adding that he criticized the “sacred” idea of visiting a museum. “My aim was not to be political.”

However, things did not go as Hayon planned. The museum refused to collect the work and did not exhibit it. “It is not important whether they like it. There is something more important than that,” Hayon said.

The approach was more like a censorship process, according to Hayon. “The work was found contradictious and inconvenient.”

The International Association of Art Critics’s Turkish division and the strangely named Turkish National Committee of the International Plastic Arts Association are supporting Istanbul Modern’s position and they have offered their definition of censorship, which they claim can only be called as such if a third party, such as a government, a local authority, a ministry, a municipality or the police, were involved.

This debate comes at a time when Turkey is proving to be a growing presence in the international art scene with a burgeoning gallery scene, growing museum culture and contemporary art auctions that have attracted the attention of secondary market watchers.

This story is evolving.

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