Art biennials, as we have increasingly come to expect, don't always have to be straight-faced, and İstanbul, one of the regional -- if not global -- hubs of contemporary art, is these days home to a lighthearted artistic gathering: The İstanbul Children and Youth Art Biennial.
Marking its second edition this year, the biennial, which opened on Saturday and continues until Nov. 23, presents works of art by a total of 5,000 children and teenagers under the age of 18 from İstanbul's 39 districts as well as 29 other Turkish provinces in various locations across İstanbul. Venues include the Şirket-i Hayriye Art Gallery, Kadıköy Merkez Art Gallery and Beşiktaş Municipality MKM Mustafa Kemal Center.
Curators Maria Sezer, Leyla Sakpınar, Özcan Yurdalan and Gülçin Aksoy conceptualized the theme as “Dream or Reality?” for the second edition.
Each student taking part in the exhibitions has delved into their own idea of “dream and reality,” based on their own experiences, said Gazi Selçuk, the biennial's artistic director, in an interview with Today's Zaman, during the opening of the show. “The more we have a young population with lively dreams, the more we can be hopeful about the future, since dreams always change our real life,” Sezer added.
Selçuk thought for the first time about organizing a biennial for children and youth during conferences he held with around 20,000 teachers working in various schools in İstanbul when the city was declared the European Capital of Culture for 2010. “In this process, we told the teachers that their projects were going to be supported both financially and bureaucratically. There were 600 applications. In the following two years we realized around 2,500 projects and festival in 39 districts. The most common demand of both the teachers and the students was to continue such events in the upcoming years,” he said.
The biennial's aim is a big one: to change the lives of children and youth through this art event.
According to Selçuk, in order İstanbul to be a “creative city,” it needs a change of strategy in the fields of culture and arts education, so that younger generations can have a more “organic relationship” with creative industries. “There are 3,000 schools, 105,000 teachers and 3 million students in this city, and there are no organizations enabling these students to display their works in public spaces,” he added.
In the first edition of the biennial, artworks by 5,000 students were exhibited, which excited the organizers and led them to arrange larger spaces for the current edition. “Moreover, various international organizations contacted with us this year, and our first international guest country is Holland,” Selçuk said, adding that they had also collaborated with numerous NGOs to include disadvantaged children and young people, such as those in prisons, and the physically disabled in the event.
Among the highlights of the event are music and theater performances, which will take place aboard ferries on the Bosporus and in the square in front of the Kadıköy pier. “We are aiming to specifically focus on the public sphere this year, so we are targeting locations in the city with dense populations. Hundreds of performances from different schools will be staged,” Selçuk said, noting that around 20,000 students would be able to join guided tours of the biennial, by reservation.
There will furthermore be several talks and workshops with various artists for children, teachers and parents. For more information, visit www.cocukgenclikbienal.org.