Turkey s art scene blossoms with CI Bloom in Istanbul

Turkey’s art scene is experiencing a revival. Held in Istanbul, the CI Bloom art fair has helped lead this resurgence by highlighting the best of Turkish cultural heritage, craftsmanship and contemporary art practices for fresh eyes and innovators.

With Turkey already a growing hub of tourism and trade for the MENA region, the last few years have also been a significant step forward for local artistic production.

The expanding scene is most evident at the second edition of CI Bloom, a new contemporary art fair that will be held annually in Istanbul, focused on local galleries. 

The fair, which was held June 1 to 4 at the Istanbul Lutfi Kirdar International Convention and Exhibition Center, featured 25 Turkish contemporary art galleries showing 420 artworks from 266 new-generation artists.

Four of the participating galleries – Simbart, Denart, Kairos, and Bosfor – were only established in the past year or two, in repose to growing demand. 

Organised by Contemporary Istanbul, Turkey’s leading international art fair – which this September will celebrate 18 years – the new springtime fair intends to offer a dedicated platform for only local arts, to truly highlight the diverse production and allow viewers to engage directly with Turkey’s galleries and artists.

“During the pandemic and still till now, there was a boom in the world of contemporary art, which was reflected in Turkey as well,” Contemporary Istanbul chairperson Ali Güreli told The New Arab. “That’s why we decided to start last year with the first edition of CI Bloom, to showcase these local talents and the sales of galleries at the first edition were very high.  

Alper Bicaklioglu’s untitled urban architectural model, made from recycled materials [Photo by Maghie Ghali]

“The fair encourages the development and diversification of Turkey’s art sector by bringing together the region’s new generation of artists and art professionals, including special projects and initiative participation,” he added.

Turkey’s craft heritage had a strong presence at the fair, fused with contemporary art practices and experimentation, to offer something new.

Topics of climate change, migration and gender issues were showcased alongside satirical creations and fantastical artworks rooted in real worries about the future of humanity.

At the Anna Laudel gallery booth, Bilal Hakan Karakaya’s floating mirrored cities sculpted from metal offered a surrealist series, Invisible Cities, named after Italo Calvino’s 1972 dream-like fantasy novel. The sculptures cram minarets, skyscrapers and small houses into floating islands – possibly futuristic cities, or the ruins of a fallen world.

Karakaya’s sculptures feature many architectural styles, in ruin [Photo by Maghie Ghali]

“I asked myself: What do we conceive of the concept of the city nowadays? Perhaps, I wonder, we are approaching a crisis point in urban life and thus Invisible Cities is a fantasy resulting from city centres, the cities´ hearts, becoming uninhabitable,” Hakan Karakaya told The New Arab. “The biggest problem faced today is global climate change and the main cause contributing to that is the pollution caused by the big cities that we consider as our safe harbours.

“The architectural elements I choose don’t belong to any city, yet they are a synthesis of eastern and western urban elements,” he added. “I aimed to make the audience think critically about the future. With the urban amorphous structures that I created, I present an anticipation of future cities’ remnants where the water, which we depend on to exist, will recede and be depleted entirely.”

Taksim Sanat Gallery, which specializes in younger artists using multidisciplinary practices, showcased pieces or small collections from a number of creators. Alper Bicaklioglu presented an installation made with recycled materials, made to look like building facades around Istanbul covered in graffiti, posters and markers of everyday life.

“I wanted to show the old building because in Istanbul urban transformation is getting more popular. It’s a way of keeping this heritage alive, because a lot of them are in bad shape and have been lost,” Bicaklioglu said. “You’ll also notice there are lots of surveillance cameras on the model buildings because I wanted to include this idea of always being watched and issues of artistic censorship.”

Art on Istanbul showcased a range of artists working with different mediums, from experimental clay sculpting to digital AI. One wall was entirely taken up by small ceramic envelopes and eyes – an installation titled The Fatal Necessity of Going Away by Ulgen Semerci, which tackled themes of migration, isolation from loved ones and communicating over distances.

Digital artist Erdal Inci offered a 4k video called Hair on Landscape, which took 360-degree drone footage of ruins, mountains landscapes and the pink mountains of Cappadocia, and added flowing, floating hair-like shapes around them. The animation transforms the landscapes into something alien or magical. 

A still from Erdal Inci’s ‘Hair on Landscape’ (2022) at CI Bloom [Photo by Maghie Ghali]

“I’m interested in installations but in digital forms, so this work is a kind of landscape art, but it’s in augmented reality,” Inci said. “The videos are real but the hair is done with camera tracking technology so it looks and moves photo-realistically. My aim was to take something familiar and present it from a new perspective, make it look more fantastical.”

Asli Unal, CI Bloom’s artistic director, believes that the wider political problems in the region have made Istanbul a stable space for artists to move to, adding a new creative influence to Turkish art. CI Bloom is one of many recent artistic initiatives happening in the country, with more to come in the next few years.

An architectural model for the plans of Tersane Instanbul, showing the location of Contemporary Istanbul. [Photo by Maghie Ghali]

“The Turkish art scene is evolving so rapidly and the galleries that have been supporting the artists are opening up these venues for artists to now try new mediums, so you see a lot of artists that are going into multidisciplinary practices because they’ve never able to do that before,” Unal explained. “You’ll see a lot of new venues that are being built by the municipality – these historic buildings are being renovated and they’re all becoming exhibition halls for artists.

“Just since last year, there are so many artists moving into Istanbul and Turkey in general to live. We have so many artist residencies that are being built or developed or providing new opportunities for artists to get inspiration from the region.”

The opening of the long-awaited Istanbul Modern Museum this May is a significant part of engaging the public with art and giving a comprehensive look at Turkey’s older generation of artistic production.

More museums are set to open in the next five years, with many to be placed in the Tersane Istanbul district project, which will see an Ottoman naval shipyard turned into a hub of art, culture, and tourism.

Currently closed for renovations, Tersane will partially reopen for Contemporary Istanbul’s 18th edition in September – housing the fair in a courtyard and 600-year-old brick buildings resembling Venice’s Arsenale – with the wider complex estimated to finish before 2030.

Maghie Ghali is a British-Lebanese journalist based in Beirut. She worked for The Daily Star Lebanon and writes as a freelancer for several publications, including The National, Al Arabiya English, Al Jazeera and Middle East Eye, on arts and culture/design, environment and humanitarian topics.

Follow her on Twitter: @mghali6

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