“It all started with Cornelis Haga.”
This is the first sentence in the audio tour to “Chamber of Levantine Trade,” one of the many exhibitions currently on display in numerous Dutch museums and art institutions.
The exhibits make up only a portion of a colorful, year-round smorgasbord of cultural activities both in the Netherlands and Turkey, marking the 400th anniversary of the commencement of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Haga (1578-1654) was the first Dutch ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. He came to Istanbul in 1612, when the Ottoman state was an empire and the Dutch state was a republic, quite the opposite of the current situation. Haga was the diplomat who was granted the Ottoman state’s capitulation that officially gave the Dutch the right to carry out trade activities within the empire, by Sultan Ahmed I.
Haga’s arrival in İstanbul in 1612, where he was to stay until 1639, laid the foundations for centuries-long camaraderie between the two countries, which only got stronger in the 20th century with Turkish migrants settling in the Netherlands and Dutch nationals immigrating to Turkey. The relations that started during the 17th century did not cease when the Turkish founded their republic after the War of Independence, with the founder of the republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, maintaining ties with a treaty of friendship in June 1925, just two years after the Turkish Republic was founded.
Turkish-Dutch relations are still thriving although the focus has shifted from being merely trade partners to cooperation in all kinds of fields imaginable, particularly in cultural areas, such as art, design and architecture, among others.
The anniversary has proven to be a great occasion to celebrate with countless events made possible through the cooperation of ministries, municipalities, museums and art institutes as well as other cultural and social organizations from both countries, such as the Turkey Institute and SICA -- the Service Center for International Cultural Activities, based in Amsterdam.
The program of events -- referred to as NL-TR400 for short -- officially got under way early April with a greater emphasis on the Netherlands, although a number of events on the program’s Turkish leg -- consisting mainly of exhibitions traveling from prominent Dutch museums to museums in İstanbul and Ankara as an initial step -- have also been introduced. The program’s focus will shift to Turkey and particularly to İstanbul in the autumn. The coordination of the events in Turkey is also being overseen by SICA.
The shared historical background as well as future interests are highlighted through the program, which is slated to continue until the end of the year in both countries.
History and present-day side by side
One of the shows that best presents a snapshot of the shared history between Turkey and the Netherlands awaits visitors in the Amsterdam Museum. The exhibition, “Chamber of Levantine Trade - Dutch Merchants and Ottoman Sultans,” opened on April 18 and will continue until Aug. 26 at one of the many galleries of the museum, which receives around 250,000 visitors annually.
The showcased material in the exhibition -- ranging from oil paintings to official documents such as trade records and even chairs -- are assembled in such a fashion that creates in the visitor a sense of being inside the Chamber of Levantine Trade that was located in the Amsterdam Town Hall on the Dam Square, where trade between the Dutch and the Ottoman state was overseen from the late 17th century onwards.
The famous three-meter-long capitulation document Haga received from the sultan is displayed in another ongoing exhibition called “The Prince and the Pasha” at the Nationaal Archief Den Haag -- the Dutch national archives in The Hague, alongside other official documents that chronicle the history of relations between the two states.
Paintings depicting life in the eastern Mediterranean coasts that have come to be known as the Levant used to adorn the walls of the Chamber of Levantine Trade, which currently serves as a private room for the Dutch royal family. The paintings on view in the Amsterdam Museum exhibition were selected from among those pieces. Until April 1, the Pera Museum in İstanbul also hosted an adapted version of this exhibition.
In another gallery of the Amsterdam Museum is “İstanbul Contrast,” a fashion exhibition by Turkish fashion label Dice Kayek, set to run until June 17. Held in collaboration with the İstanbul-based dDf (Dream Design Factory), “İstanbul Contrast” presents a splendid collection of gowns inspired from both the historical and present-day icons of İstanbul, including the Topkapı Palace, tulips and lokum -- the delicacy known as Turkish delight. Billed by sisters Ece and Ayşe Ege -- the founders of Dice Kayek -- as “a lyrical ode to İstanbul,” the exhibition is accompanied by poetic texts by bestselling Turkish author Elif Şafak to match each item in the collection.
A prominent subject matter: immigration
The third show in the Amsterdam Museum looks at immigration from the opposite angle, presenting portraits and stories of Dutch nationals who chose to relocate in Turkey -- in the opposite direction of thousands of Turkish nationals who emigrated to Holland in the late 1960s when the Dutch government was recruiting Turkish laborers to sustain its workforce. Titled “Dutch Pioneers in Turkey,” this photo exhibition put together by University of Amsterdam lecturer Günay Uslu and photographer Geert Snoeijer, also continues until June 17, presenting portraits of 18 Dutch emigrants in Turkey.
The presentation is aimed at exploring the motives and expectations of these Dutch men and women in Turkey and their experience of life in Turkey.
“Immigration actually started from the West to the East,” said Uslu during a recent press tour for a group of visiting Turkish journalists at the museum, referring to the relations that began in the 17th century with Dutch merchants traveling to Ottoman lands. “We even found descendants of those merchants [in Turkey] while looking for subjects for this exhibition,” she added. “A Dutch national relocating in Turkey is still perceived as something odd in the Netherlands. One of our aims in creating this exhibition was to overcome this kind of perception [among Dutch people],” Uslu said.
The issue of immigration was again under the spotlight in yet another photo exhibition in Amsterdam. The prestigious Rijksmuseum, which is home to one of the most impressive painting collections of the world with its massive collection of Dutch masters, played host to an interesting presentation of black and white photographs by Dutch-born Turkish photographer Ahmet Polat until May 7. In the show, commissioned by the Rijksmuseum and titled “Modern Turkey,” Polat presented portraits of 10 second or third-generation Dutch-born Turkish people who chose to return to Turkey to seek new lives.
The 34-year-old Polat, an internationally renowned artist, is himself one of those who chose to relocate to Turkey. His series, through its assorted focus, was far from painting a one-sided picture for it succeeded in bringing forth all kinds of sentiments associated with being a Turk in the Netherlands as well as offering insight into how Turkish culture is perceived by Dutch-born Turks.
Although the Ahmet Polat show has ended, the Rijksmuseum still continues to host “Ottomania: The Turkish World through Western Eyes (1500-1750),” a selection of 35 prints and illustrated books from the 16th through 18th centuries, in which Ottoman landscapes and people are depicted. The selection was chosen from the museum’s extensive “permanent collection of prints whose number reaches thousands,” said Huigen Leeflang, curator of the Printroom at Rijksmuseum, during a press tour on April 29 at the museum for a group of visiting Turkish journalists. “Ottomania” is on an extended display until May 29 at the museum, presenting works by renowned masters Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt and Tiepolo, among others.
Meanwhile in Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, one of the Netherlands’ most prominent museums, hosts a selection titled “İstanbul Modern -- Rotterdam” through June 10. “İstanbul Modern -- Rotterdam” features works in different disciplines by 14 internationally acclaimed contemporary Turkish artists, including Hale Tenger, Balkan Naci İslimyeli and Sarkis, on loan from Turkey’s İstanbul Modern. Having gone on display on March 10 in the 163-year-old Boijmans Van Beuningen, the exhibit is the Rotterdam leg of an exchange of exhibitions between two museums, with the İstanbul leg, “La La La Human Steps,” having wrapped up on May 6 at the İstanbul Modern.
Sarkis, whose 10-piece stained glass series “The Stained Glass of the Innocents” from 2007 is displayed as part of “İstanbul Modern -- Rotterdam,” will also have a solo installation put on display later this summer in the Submarine Wharf in the Rotterdam harbor.
Ambassador Haga’s hometown of Schiedam is also home to a significant presentation as part of the NL-TR400 program. The Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, or the Schiedam Municipal Museum, is hosting an exhibition titled “Marius Bauer in Turkey” until July 6 in the historic chapel Grote of Sint Janskerk. Featuring a selection of drawings, etchings, watercolors, oil paintings and letters by the Dutch Orientalist artist Bauer (1867-1932), the exhibition is noteworthy for it is being held in the exact chapel where Haga was buried centuries ago. Bauer, who arrived in İstanbul by boat in 1888, depicted Ottoman people and landscapes in his works, which now take museum-goers on an exotic travel to those days at the Schiedam Municipal Museum. The show was assembled from more than 25 private collections and museums.
Music as a major cultural bridge
The NL-TR400 program does not only consist of exhibitions; a live performance on the night of April 29 that brought together Kurdish singer Aynur Doğan with the Amsterdam-based multinational improvisational quartet Arifa as part of this year’s Turkey Now! festival was one of the best examples of how culture and art can bridge even the most distant cultures. Arifa, made up of German, Romanian, Turkish and Dutch-Turkish musicians, accompanied Aynur in an improvised performance that also included folk songs from Turkey.
Turkey Now!, being held for the fourth time by the Amsterdam-based Kulsan Foundation (which is marking its 25th anniversary in 2012), opened on Feb. 23 and runs through May 23, presenting in between an eclectic range of live performances, including the dance show “Troy,” by Turkey’s Anadolu Ateşi (Fire of Anatolia) dance company; a performance of 20th century Turkish composer Ahmed Adnan Saygun’s “Yunus Emre Oratorio,” by the Hoofdstadkoor and Promenade Orkest; and the modern dance show “Seyahatname II” (Travelogue II), by the İstanbul State Opera’s Modern Dance Company MDT.
A full list of events organized in both Turkey and the Netherlands within the framework of the NL-TR400 program is available online in Turkish and Dutch on the program’s official website, www.nltr400.nl.
Rotterdam’s fifth architecture biennale offers a helping hand
The International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam, or IABR, which is currently marking its fifth edition with a comprehensive program under the main theme of “Making City,” is one of the most exciting events that accompany the NL-TR400 program.
The IABR is not merely a platform where architects and city planners exhibit their projects and brag about their portfolios; rather, it is a platform at which cooperation on an international scale is very much welcomed and encouraged. One of the many collaborative projects the biennale is working on in this edition is -- and should be -- of great interest for the Turkish public, particularly İstanbulites.
In line with the issue at its heart, “Making City,” which is aimed at developing strategies for sustainable urbanization, the biennale has turned part of its focus to the problems İstanbul has been facing due to the inevitable growth that comes with rural-urban migration. The biennale is developing a strategic urbanization plan for the northern parts of İstanbul’s European side, more specifically the Arnavutköy region, currently the subject of much debate in Turkey between supporters of urban development and environmentalists because of a planned third bridge over the Bosporus strait.
The biennale’s plan is one that can serve the interests of both parties: While letting İstanbul’s urban/residential area expand towards the city’s northern parts (which is home to the territory’s water reservoirs and forests), these areas of vital importance can actually be preserved through a clever plan that manages to integrate urban life and development with nature and even agriculture and animal husbandry, mainly through the recycling of resources.
An international team -- headed by Joachim Declerck and also including Turkey’s Asu Aksoy (members of the IABR team of curators) -- is working together with the local Arnavutköy municipality on the plan, which is called “Test Site İstanbul” and which is expected to be implemented from 2014 onwards. A detailed introduction of the project is part of the main exhibition at the IABR.
The project will also travel to Turkey for a month-long display in October in İstanbul, at the Taksim Cumhuriyet Art Gallery, or the Maksem, on Taksim square.
The International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam opened on April 20 and continues through Aug. 12 at the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam.