From Lebanon to Iraq, from Egypt to Turkey and from Syria to Iran, dream-like snapshots from countries with predominantly Muslim populations form a mysterious and enigmatic world at the exhibition hall of the Sismanoglio Megaro, the Greek Consulate’s cultural center in İstanbul’s Taksim.
The scene is created by a group exhibition, a collection of artwork waiting to be discovered as a journey to the East.
“Muslim world caught: between imaginary and reality” is an exhibition that has achieved creating this enigmatic world with its own contradictions and own consistencies, such that, as an integrated entity, this “world,” this exhibition of photography and video art, comprises works by various artists in different styles.
The exhibition, which was first showcased at the Thessaloniki PhotoBiennale in 2010, is organized in cooperation with the M55projects gallery and sponsored by the Bodossaki Foundation. As the exhibition attempts to artistically approach the identity and character of the Muslim world in the greater Middle East, it includes photography projects by Stefania Mizara, Pier Giorgio Lomascolo, Anita Andrzejewska, Kostas Ordolis, Alp Sime and Dimitris Michalakis as well video projections by Robert Holden and Susan Hefuna.
“The idea of an exhibition has both developed from the existing works of the artists where the curator had to discover the link between the photographs and to create his/her own substantial proposal and from trying to find the right works on which to build the idea,” says Nina Kassianou, the curator, explaining the departing point of the exhibition in an interview with Today’s Zaman.
“Our Art Place in Athens, M55projects, had hosted some exhibitions for the last two years which focused on this concept, just like the exhibition of Alp Sime, which had been a big event for our place. This exhibition was also hosted in Thessaloniki last September, and it was part of the PhotoBiennale in 2010 of which the main subject was ‘The Place’.”
So, the history of the exhibition goes back some time, however, the recent exhibition has a wider content and a broader perspective than previous ones, according to Kassianou. “For this exhibition new photographers were included, since the exhibition place was bigger, where the works of Costas Ordolis and Dimitris Michalakis were included,” she says. “I could describe this exhibition as a very alive one which can always change its form and shape depending on the exhibiting place. At the same time it is very interesting for me to include new photographers and new works to an existing exhibition. You need to prove that your idea can exist beyond certain people and that it can encompass various artists of an international range.”
However, expanding an exhibition and making it more dynamic every time it is organized requires great effort and devotion. “First of all it needs a lot of energy,” says Kassianou. “To prepare an exhibition is not only a matter of time and effort. Deciding on an exhibition and the process of making the exhibition happen need much life experience: your experiences, your perceptions about art in general, the way you build your relationships, the climate of the place you live, the colors, even the smells you like and your taste in food… What makes my work very interesting is that the exhibition I have in my mind looks completely different when it is presented on the wall and I think this is very important. Every time I design an exhibition, a new challenging situation occurs. The exhibition space is a blank page for me and I feel that I can create anything from the beginning.”
Depicting reality or calling for imagination?
“The exhibition is based on a dialogue between the depiction of reality and the production of meaning,” says Kassianou. “It refers to different concepts associated with that place: an experience, event, emotion, memory, personal myths or fantasies.”
According to Kassianou, works in the exhibition are far from being Orientalist. “Let’s consider art as something global and general, beyond political and ethnic boundaries,” she notes. “Photography especially -- because of the ease of the means created by technological developments -- has adopted a very general language which has been very well communicated among all audiences. In this way, photography in this exhibition does not show the way Westerners look at the Muslim world but how the Muslim world can be perceived by the photographers’ eye. The Muslim world is the frame of the personal expression for these artists. I can say these photographers take pictures of the Muslim world to discover how this world looks when photographed.”
As already mentioned, the exhibition is an entity comprising many varieties, which is the basic, but perhaps the most contributing, contradiction of it. “This exhibition is trying to reach or to create an atmosphere to give an essence and a feeling of this world. Contrary to having common points among the works, I tried to combine works with different aesthetic approaches and expressions of photographic form. I didn’t intend to discover common characteristics and to base the exhibition on them. But I believe what connects all the works is the personal mythology each photographer creates with his approach,” she explains.
In the meantime, Kassianou notes that there will be a continuation of this project entailing coordination and common projects between Turkey and Greece. “Sismanoglio is the starting point for this exhibition to embark on long trips to the capitals of Eastern countries. As a further step, we want to open a path of cooperation with the galleries and the exhibition places within this area to exchange artists’ works and to share ideas for common projects. In this respect, as a starting point we are planning to invite some curators from Turkish galleries in Athens to present Turkish photography to the Greek public and at the same time to choose works from Greek photographers to exhibit in their galleries in Turkey.”
As the exhibition coincides with a remarkable timing of the recent incidents in the Middle East and North Africa -- which is actually the focus of the exhibition as well -- Kassianou says the exhibition does not have any current or political messages. “Actually this exhibition does not follow the events,” she says. “This exhibition talks more about artistic and aesthetic situations than the current hot issues. Let’s take as an example Stefania Mizara’s Iraqi Refugees in Syria, a theme of our days; the way it has been photographed does not have anything to do with the exact situation. Her approach is more humanistic and concerns all the refugees around the world in the past, present and future as well. The work of Annita, of Alp, of Costas, of Dimitris, of Susan and of Pier Giorgio also deals more with permanent photographic values.”
The exhibition can be seen at the Sismanoglio Megaro through April 10. Visiting hours: 3 p.m.-8 p.m. from Monday to Tuesday and 12 p.m.-8 p.m. on weekends.