Confronting Memory through Art in Turkey

November 2, 2009 at 7:22 pm (Armenian-Turkish rapprochement, Armenian-Turkish relations) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

This fall, an Istanbul art exhibit at the BM SUMA Art Center is breaking the silence over a collective Turkish memory that some would like to forget and others find impossible to ignore.  The “Dirty Story” exhibit confronts the memory of Turkey’s 1980 military coup through art in hopes of coming to a modern understanding of the deaths, detentions, human rights abuses, and pain caused by that era of Turkey’s not-so-distant past.  The exhibit also challenges political and artistic censorship in Turkey, with photos of muzzled artists alongside a photographed tombstone, engraved with a gun.

Tarih-i Kadim (The Old History) artist unknown

Whenever grotesque and inhuman events tear the social fabric of a society, it takes strength and courage to initiate healing.  Leave it to Turkish artists to tackle this challenge.

In recent weeks and months, much of the global Armenian diaspora have mobilized in opposition to the Armenian-Turkish protocols.  At the core of their opposition is pain that results from Turkey’s ongoing denial of the Armenian genocide.  The protocols do not address this wound – they arguably make it worse by having both countries agree to a historic commission.

What is not being addressed within the diaspora, Armenia, or Turkey is the difference between rapprochement and reconciliation.  The diaspora’s response to the protocols demonstrates the difference between the two and the need for rapprochement not to preclude or prevent reconciliation.  In fact, the protocols have the potential to pave the way for more efforts, more courage, and more drive for understanding and peace between these groups.

The “Dirty Story” exhibit offers a model for initiating reconciliation that could be applied to the memory of the Armenian genocide.  Besides obliterating  Armenian society in eastern Anatolia, the genocide destroyed the social fabric of late Ottoman and early Turkish societies.  The ramifications of genocide denial reverberate in Turkey to the present day.  The timing is perfect for an artistic collaboration to explore this trauma and shock all sides into an atmosphere where reconciliation is possible.

[Thanks to Rob at Art Threat for bringing this exhibit to my attention.]

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