Roots and Growth: Traditional and Contemporary Art from Turkey

The exhibition “Roots and Growth” focuses on the interaction in Turkey between the traditional Muslim world and the Western world that influenced it, and encompasses a critical and nostalgic look at pre-industrial Anatolia.

Turkey spans two continents, Europe and Asia. Its culture reflects a historical process of blending of East and West. The interaction between the two cultures – Muslim and Greco-Christian – is a process that has been going on for hundreds of years, beginning in the eleventh century with the Muslim conquest of the region. In one seventeenth-century Ottoman travel journal, Turkish art and architecture in Anatolia are presented as the joining of two styles: Muslim and Anatolian Christian.

In the twentieth century a new aspect was added to this blending process: The transition from sultanate rule of the Ottoman Empire to a nation-state republic (1922). This transition cut Turkey off from its traditional culture. The social, cultural and political fabric of the state, which was created anew, turned toward Western values. Western art, which had already penetrated the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century, replaced traditional art and became the center of cultural activity in Turkey. Traditional arts such as miniature illustrations, calligraphy, rug-weaving and embroidery were not entirely abandoned; they survived in the art departments of academic institutions as well as in public schools. However, Turkey’s international artistic identity was shaped by European art. The link between these two worlds is at the heart of public, political and cultural discourse in Turkey to this day.

The contemporary works in the exhibition are by seven Turkish artists: Gülçin Aksoy, Fatih Aydoğdu, Nezaket Ekici, Memed Erdener, Seda Hepsev, Sibel Horada and Seval Şener. They express the connection to the past and to Turkish tradition. Some even employ typical Turkish techniques that have been in use for centuries such as weaving, embroidery or calligraphy. Alongside them are eight ancient and rare kilim rugs, traditional Turkish embroidery and calligraphy pages. The ancient exhibits reflect traditional crafts; they are on loan from private collections and from Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

The exhibition is on display in the Museum of Islamic and Near Eastern Cultures, housed in an Ottoman mosque, exemplifying Turkish architecture. As such, it links the museum to its historic roots. The subject of the exhibition – the connection between the traditional and the contemporary – is in keeping with the spirit of the museum since its founding, presenting and highlighting the dialogue and the encounter between past and present as well as East and West in Islamic culture.

Exhibition curators:

Tuçe Erel

Sharon Laor-Sirak