Thursday, January 24, 2013

Modern Art and a Modern Mosque

Olivia's Blog Post

Thanks to Lynn for posting some gorgeous pictures from today's visit to the Sakirin Mosque! The mosque was our first stop today, and a very interesting one. Unlike the other mosques we have visited, the Sakirin Mosque is a modern mosque, created in 2009 by architect William Pye. Perhaps even more unusually, the interior of the mosque was designed by a woman, Zeynep Fadillioglu. Fadillioglu has gained renown through her work on hotels and homes for the wealthy across Europe and Asia. The mosque was unlike any other we had seen. Though the central elements were present, like the mihrab (prayer niche) and minbar (a raised pulpit of sorts), the room had the overall feel of a "fancy hotel lobby," as phrased by our tour guide, Saba.

The building was beautiful, but even within our group, not everyone was a fan of the design. Some felt that it was too modern to properly serve as a place of worship, and thought the design could potentially be distracting, instead of creating an environment of faith and focus. This discord reflects wider opinions about the mosque, which has sparked much controversy. Some feel that the modern design of the building is a step towards Islamic adaptation to the modern world. Others oppose the heavy involvement of a woman in the mosque's design, reflecting the gender divide that is so prominent in Islam. Others simply don't like it. Just like any piece of modern art, not everyone sees it the same way.

Speaking of modern art, our second stop today was the Istanbul Modern art museum. The museum, founded as a requisite for Turkey's European Union candidacy, recently won the European Museum of the Year Award. This visit was one of the things I had looked forward to the most on this trip, and I was not disappointed. It would be impossible to discuss the whole museum in this one blog post, but I would like to mention a few pieces that I particularly enjoyed, and which I think reflect some of the themes we have discussed throughout our course. (Photos were not allowed in the museum, so you will have to bear with my textual descriptions.) Two separate pieces, for instance, featured bright neon lights, juxtaposed with tribal-looking wooden statuettes, demonstrating the contrast between the ancient and the modern that has been so prevelant on this trip.

One painting I saw, by artist Fatma Tülin Öztürk, was entitled "Nude." It showed a naked figure of a woman's body, lying in repose. But what made the painting stand out was the angle taken by the artist. The body was viewed as if sitting at the end of the couch the woman lay upon, with her knees forming the foreground of the picture. It was difficult, at first, to even recognize the figure as human. This unique perspective taken by the artist brought to my mind the unique perspective Turkey has in the world: neither East nor West, yet somehow part of both, Turkey sees the world differently—and perhaps its artists do, too.

Another piece, part of the exhibit dealing with the idea of modernity, featured an assortment of refrigerators, each painted black and covered in a mosaic of mirrors. Together, they seemed to form a city skyline. The effect was beautiful, yet slightly overwhelming, just like Istanbul itself. I also saw the piece as a statement about Turkey's attempts to westernize. Istanbul has in some ways become nothing but a mirror, reflecting the idea of a western city.

The piece "1+1=1" consisted of two videos projected into a corner, with one video on each wall, perpendicular to each other and meeting where the walls met. On one screen, a woman discussed her life as a Cypriot on the Greek side of the island; on the other, the same woman discussed living as a Cypriot on the Turkish side. The videos ran simultaneously, creating a sense of chaos intended to reflect the internal divide felt by the woman and others like her. But I noticed another narrative being told as well. One screen had English subtitles, but the other did not. This seems to me an accurate reflection of Turkey's divided feelings about outsiders: on one hand, they want to welcome them, and share the Turkish culture with them. But a part of them also wants a piece of Turkey to keep for themselves—a lingering remnant of "Turkey for the Turks."

I could go on and on about the museum, but I will stop here. Like everyone else, I have to pack tonight! (And somehow fit all of my purchases into my bag...) Today was a fantastic ending to our amazing journey in Turkey. I think I speak for everyone when I say that we had a phenomenal time learning and traveling here, and none of us really want it to end. But we're excited to return to the comforts of home, including English-language television, ketchup, and potable tap water, as well as to see our friends, family, and pets. (Shout out to my kitties, Carina and Lily!)

Tesekkur ederim for all the great times, Istanbul, and güle güle!

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