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!

Some Shots of Sakirin Mosque

While Olivia will be posting about today's sites, I just couldn't help but offer a few pics of Sakirin Mosque, which is on the Asian side of Istanbul and opened in 2009.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Rumeli Fortress and Ortakoy

So today's original plan was for us to go to Taksim Square and the Taksim Republic Gallery but things changed and we went to the Rumeli Fortress and an area of Istanbul called Ortakoy instead.

We had walked through Taksim last Tuesday when we had visited the Neve Shalom synagogue so we were able to experience the abundance of art galleries, restaurants and shops that are along the main street. There is also a a small trolley, similar to the ones in San Francisco, that ends at this large square where there is, of course, a large statue of Ataturk. It is the "Monument of the Republic" that stands to remember the formation of the Turkish Republic in 1923.

Since we had already spent a decent amount of time here last week, our professors decided to take us to the fortress instead. We had seen it from the water when we were on the Bosphorus cruise last Monday, and a lot of us showed interest in learning more about it.

The Rumeli Fortress was built in 1452 at the narrowest part of the Bosphorus strait (it is only half a mile to the other side!) in order to control sea traffic and trade. It was also constructed here so Sultan Mehmed II could conquer Constantinople. Shockingly, it only took 4 months to build! And that is including the 5 main gates, the 4 large towers and the 15 smaller watch towers that connected all the main towers. All the stone that was used was recycled from Roman remains.

There used to be a small mosque in the fortress but only the minaret remains. The amphitheater that is right next to the minaret was recently reconstructed and is actually used today for concerts. Fun fact: the highest seats in the theater are actually more expensive than the seats that are closer to the stage because the top seats have a beautiful view of the water.

As we walked and climbed (very carefully!) up and down the fortress walls, we not only got an unbelievable view of the sun reflecting off the water, the bridge, and the rest of the fortress, but we all saw that this was not a castle for a princess. It was a place for soldiers to control the sea; there were cannons, watch towers and dungeons all around.

This fortress is incredible and not just because of its size and design, but because of its durability. Istanbul has experienced several earthquakes since 1452 that have destroyed many buildings and structures, but this looks untouched. I'm so glad that it was added into our schedule.

After leaving the fortress, we took the bus to Ortakoy, which is a nice neighborhood area along the water that has small shops and cafes. It is known as an "area of tolerance" because there is a Greek Orthodox Church, a synagogue, and a mosque all within 50 meters of each other. All have been open and practicing for years with no issues. It is a wonderful thing to know that places like this still exist in a world where we see religious differences cause tension.

For lunch most of us ate "kumpir" which is very popular in Istanbul, but especially in this area. It is a baked potato that you fill with any available topping. What started off as a normal sized potato turned into a mountain of cheese, peas, corn, black and green olives, mushrooms, some meat and, sour cream. And you still had more options to choose from! The fact that it only cost 10 TL was definitely a plus.

Exploring Rumeli Fortress

Our bloggers at work

We look good at a fortress, no?

Mike is eager to talk about castles

Hanna expresses concern over the timing of this hug!

King of the castle?

Danielle and Sarah descend carefully

Morgan keeps both feet firmly on terra firma

Michael, Jacquie and Olivia explore the fortress

Back in Istanbul

Hello all!

Yesterday, we wearily checked out of our four-star hotel in downtown Izmir and caught our Turkish Airlines flight back to Istanbul. However, this time around in Istanbul we are not staying in the historic section, only a minute's walk away from both the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Now we're staying in the Koc (pronounced "coach") University campus in Istinye, a nice neighborhood on the European side of the Bosphorus a bit north of downtown Istanbul.

After a little nap in our own single rooms, we went to class in one of the lecture rooms that Koc has provided for us. This was one of the first times that we were in what felt like a formal class setting, as most of our previous learning has been done at the historical sites we've been visiting. It felt a bit strange at first, but we quickly jumped into a highly engaged discussion about the nationalism. First we had to figure out what the word "nation" means in order to understand what nationalism truly entails. A common mistake in our language is to interchangeably use the terms "nation" and "state." However, a state is technically defined as a political entity with recognized boarders and a population. A nation is a bit more difficult to define because the essence of a nation is intangible. Members of a nation share a psychological bond between each other which entails a sense of belonging, generally to a specific location. Nations can exist within and between state boarders. This is important because the term "nationalism" actually means allegiance to one's state, not necessarily to one's nation.

Really, this etymology doesn't make much sense, unless you think about the modern country as a "nation-state," or, a political entity made up of members of a distinct nation. However, states that started off as truly made up of a homogenous nation are few. For many, these feelings of nationalism towards one's state had to be fabricated - and this is where we focused our discussion.

In order to foster a sense of nationalism, governments must invent a sort of tradition for it's people. Most notably, there is a national education in which republican values are stressed. For instance, in history class in the United States, we surely get a more heroic, valorous view of the American Revolution than do the English. Generally, there is a certain national language that is taught in the primary education also. Next, governments must sponsor national holidays in which the nation-state can be celebrated. Respective independence or founding days are certainly popular throughout the world. Furthermore, governments generally construct monuments immortalizing national heroes or victories. Almost every day since I've been in Turkey, I've seen statues of Ataturk, the Father of the Turks. Lastly, there is a symbol which signifies national unity - generally a flag. Remember in your childhood when you pledged allegiance to ours every Monday thru Friday?

It is amazing to think that such an abstract notion can have such a huge impact on a nation - or should I say state? We furthered our discussion with the nature of nationalism. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? I think most would point to German nationalism during the Third Reich as a horribly destructive example of the power of nationalism. Also, what does nationalism mean in a place like America, where there exist a variety of ethnicities? Does it take a common enemy to unite a state such as ours? I'm sure stocks in American flag manufacturing companies didn't take a hit after 9/11. Our conversation was really interesting, and we all look forward to more discussion on nationalism for our class tomorrow.

Our second half of class was focused on an entired different topic: Turkish Immigration and Refugees. If you have been following this blog, you might be aware that Danielle mentioned our interest as a class in the Syrian refugee crisis (plans for a fundraising scheme in North Carolina are being constructed and will be put into effect upon our arrival home). Because of this interest, our professors thought that it would be a good idea to get a PhD student from Koc to talk to us about the status of the refugees in Turkey - not just from Syria, but from from around the world. It turns out that Turkey has a - lets call it "unique" - policy when dealing with refugees. First of all, before a refugee is technically a refugee, they are labeled asylum seekers. They only become refugees once they are determined one by the UNHCR and allowed residence in a nation. Turkey is known as a transit point for asylum seekers. To clarify, Turkey only accepts refugees from Europe; people coming from anywhere in Asia or Africa must use Turkey as a waiting room before going to a third country, gerenally in Europe or North America. Understandably, essentially all refugees come from Asia or Africa (generally because of tribal discrimination)and seek refugee status in Turkey, only to discover that it is only a waiting point until another country grants it to them. Unfortunately, the waiting times for the asylum seekers in Turkey can be very long and these people often have limited liberty. For instance, the temporary refugees who are waiting in Turkey have no work permit and no help for housing. Thus, they are forced to work in the informal sector for less and must live in apartements with many others in belittling living conditions. There are currently 20,000 asylum seekers

The Koc student also showed us a short documentary about three real families who were waiting in Istanbul. It was quite heart wrenching, yet eyeopening. The characters certainly gave a grave face to the numbers and figures that the soon-to-be PhD showed us. The families lived right off Taksim, a place we had all just gone to lunch days earlier. In all, her presentation enlightened us about a misunderstood, unfortunate group of people and encouraged us to work towards assisting the displaced Syrians who have it just as bad - if not worse.

Flying Carpets?

Actually, I don't think there will be any carpets flying home with us, although we did enjoy learning about how carpets are made and experiencing some of the luxury inherent in handmade Turkish carpets.

Michelle learns how to tie the Turkish double knot.

Learning about the silk worm, Danielle and Helen look on.

The rug show.  And it was quite the show.  Some of began to talk seriously about how gendered this experience was, since women make the rugs and men sell the rugs.  

Emma, Michelle, and Sean decide that this is a good place for a nap.

Olivia enjoys the feel of the silk rugs.

Sarah deciding which pattern is her favorite.