A city like Istanbul is hardly a geographical location but a part of our imagination. Istanbul is Mediterranean and Oriental, cosmopolitan and provincial, Turkish and Greek. Istanbul is fed with ambivalent values created and narrated generation after generation by people of various origins and creeds. Istanbul is much more than the present economic capital of Turkey. It has been for more than five hundred years “The city of the world´s desire”. Now, with the aptly titled photo exhibition “Imagine Istanbul”, we are invited to think Istanbul once again in Brussels.
The photo exhibition at Bozar is a central event in the framework of Europalia 2015, one of the main international art festivals in Brussels. The connection between these two cities has increased over time, as the local Turkish community has reaffirmed its public presence here. For this community, hailing mainly from Anatolia, Istanbul is like for the rest of us more a legendary city than a real place along the Bosphorus. So, the exhibition becomes the perfect excuse to favour the exchange of different personal and communal references about one of the most enchanting cities in the world. Europalia 2015 should also be an opportunity to make peace with the recent past and begin to recognise the Armenian Genocide in the year of its centennial.
Two Turkish public figures hold a privileged place in the exhibition: The Armenian-Turkish photojournalist Ara Guler, aka “The Eye of Istanbul”, and Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel prize winner whose novels are mainly set in Istanbul. In an interview with Guler screened among the photos of the exhibition, Pamuk confesses the inspiration he draws from the photographer’s work. Although they have both depicted the tumbledown Istanbul of the first half of the twentieth century, there is an acute sense of beauty in their productions. The image of the city we see in Guler’s photos is that of an impoverished harbour which has known better times but which still keeps the beauty of a grand lady. However, the output of the young photographers Ahmet Polat and Ali Tapik seem to lack that aesthetic sense. I must be getting old and old-fashioned. Visit the exhibition and let me know what you think.
Image credits © Bozar and Europalia.