Every year or so the Europalia programme of events allows a particular country to present its cultural wealth to an audience in Belgium. This year Turkey is centre stage with the Anatolia and Imagine Istanbul exhibitions at the Bozar in Brussels and Port City Talks in Antwerp.
Port City Talks puts the Turkish port of Istanbul in the spotlight by showing how modern artists visualise the city and its port. The exhibition contains a wealth of video installations in which artists provide their own idiosyncratic view on the port. Sometimes this happens in a confrontation with Antwerp, another major global port.
One installation makes use of amateur holiday footage from the sixties and seventies. Another shows how modern vessels navigate the Bosporus against a representation of the historic coastline of Istanbul, while a third provides the latest information on ships visiting the ports of Antwerp and Istanbul.
Co-curator Jan Parmentier (photo): "Antwerp and Istanbul have a lot in common. They are both big cities with big ports. Antwerp thrives on the River Schelde or Scheldt, while in Istanbul it is the Bosporus waterway that provides the link between Europe and Asia. Both cities provide a gateway to an impressive hinterland."
The exhibition opens with a historic perspective. Visitors are immediately confronted by a bust of the river god Scaldis, the Roman name for the River Schelde. Antwerp was a bustling port in the 16th century and so was Istanbul.
Port City Talks includes drawings and photographs of the two cities' skylines as well as maps of Istanbul and Antwerp from the same historical atlas.
Jan Parmentier:”After the fall of the Ottomans and the arrival of Kemal Atatürk Turkey was eager to present itself to the world. The vessel Kara-Deniz sailed through European waters like a floating museum and also visited Antwerp. Artefacts from this exhibition are included too.”
“Antwerp is a city of tunnels, while Istanbul is a city of bridges. This too is evident from the exhibition. In Antwerp you can also see a model of the bridge for the Bosporus that Leonardo da Vinci designed for the pasha. It was never built after the pasha went off the idea, though a scale model was constructed in Norway proving that it was viable.”
Port works often bring historic artefacts to light. In Antwerp construction of the Deurganck Dock led to the discovery of two cogs, single-mast vessels that were frequent visitors to the port. Work on the Istanbul metro led to the discovery of no fewer than 37 shipwrecks!
Antwerp and Istanbul have more in common. Istanbul served as the destination of the Orient Express, while Antwerp was the home port of the Red Star Line that operated services to America. These links too are illustrated at MAS.
The exhibition Port City Talks is the work of the celebrated Turkish architect Murat Tabanlioglu, who worked together with the Flemish co-curators Jan Parmentier, Jef Vrelust and Chris De Lauwer. It runs at Antwerp's MAS until 24 January 2016.