Tuesday, 27 December 2016

‘Enough with Praise and Clapping’

There is much interest internationally on what is going in the UAE's art scene... the West as well as East currently seem to have no direction else to look at right now! This is one of the most memorable interviews I had this year... and of much relevance what I just mentioned... hence sharing it on my blog.

The interview was published the The Boutique Magazine, an independent home grown Emirati magazine that talks about art and design among other topics of aesthetic relevance.  Posting the text below for a closer read:

Interview by Archana RD aka B’lu, an artist-journalist based in the UAE who writes on global art and culture

The Citizen E Art Gallery curator, and one of the most important voices in the UAE's art scene, Jalal Luqman reflects on what lies beneath the 'Art of Word' exhibition

Q. Why the ‘Art of the word’? Please spill the inspiration to the event title and lead us to any current/news relevant events that have had an impact. 

A. When we look at letters regardless of what language or what alphabet they relate to, we get drawn to the phonetic association of the letter, but there is more to it. If we look at letters, or words as images, lines, dots, curves and streaks then we admire the visual element of it. The way a Chinese letter or word may appear to a Chinese is different than an Indian who does not know how to read Chinese, so the Indian enjoys the visual element of the Chinese word, and vice versa.

Q. Could you visualize Citizen E Gallery to become a museum of the UAE through all ages?   

A. No, Citizen E’s function is not that of a museum, Citizen E is an art gallery with an open mind, we work with the established artists, while we support the newcomers who want to learn, we listen when no one else wants to listen and we help when others are to up in the sky to help the small person.  

Q. How would you curate a show that consisted of the peculiar nature of design as the central focus of the art?  

A. If we take the titles away, and we do not pigeonhole practices we will fail to find any difference between art and design. There is no clear definition of art. Also what is design? Is it art with function? So do we mean art has no function? I don’t waste my time categorising the function. I see the raw act of creating and dreaming, regardless of the materials that are used, or what the function of the resulting work is. So in short the answer to your question is - letters and words are neither design nor art, it is the artist or designer who transform the letter or the word to something else.
Q. What do you consider to be your most successful shows from the previous experience? How do you measure success?  

A. Success as a curator or a gallery is the amount of exposure the artist gets, and how much of that exposure translates into sale. Artists like all other humans need money to survive. Enough with the praise and the clapping. So to me one form of success is when we have an exhibition where there are sales. Another more philosophical politically correct answer would be, to consider the exhibition a success if the message in the artwork helps improve the surrounding environment, helps enrich the viewer and to elevate the art and culture society.

Q. Is there a natural connection between calligraphy and the art of the land? 

A. Remember way before language was ever created humans communicated through drawings; they kept historical record of their travels, their lives and their hunting parties, so yes calligraphy in my opinion is closely related to the people of every land. 

Q. Have the ‘general public’ really had as much contemporary art as they can bear in the UAE?  

A. Building an appreciation for art in the UAE is going to take a long time, however attracting the international art love to the UAE will take much less time. There is never enough contemporary art in the UAE, and as long as humankind walks the earth, there will always be contemporary art. And the more the UAE attracts it, eventually the general public will get used to it and grow to learn about it and appreciate it.  

Q. Has the development of the emirate helped you in collecting or exhibiting? 
A. Well as an artist who started before the art revolution of the UAE I believe I had my share of publicity locally and internationally, as a gallery it is great because after a long track record as an artist my gallery gets credibility based on my past experience.   

Q. What was the process of curating the current exhibition – please run us through the story – how the idea came about? Please share if there were any special memorable episodes this time. 

A. It was very simple. I was planning to have a calligraphy exhibition, then I noticed that some of the hardcore calligraphers were too confined to the proper rules and regulations associated with their art, this automatically alienated many artists who produced beautiful artwork which had calligraphic qualities yet did not conform to any rules (very similar to my approach to art, rules and being 'proper'), so I did away with the rules and opened it to anything with a word or a letter of any language and every culture, and the Art of the Word was born.   

Q. Is there a future for such exhibitions?  

A. If we count the applications we received, then yes. They did not stop pouring - I had to stop accepting them very soon after I announced it. However, we are yet to see the viewer’s opinion and that will be known after the opening night.   

Q. How much influence has grass root local history/art movements contributed to your themes and new displays?   

A. I stand at the crossroads of time, I saw the past, I see what is happening now, and based on where I have been and where I am, I have an idea of where we are going, and this is the reason I give particular attention the locally grown artists. When I say the locally grown I mean all artists who are in the UAE, who grew here and became Artists on Emirati soil, because they are the ones who are the true historians of the land, they are the ones who’s art will tell a true story of what happened here hundreds of years from now, yet in this new art revolution where only the new and the foreign is appreciated the locally grown talent will be left behind unless people like me have their back. 

Q. Do you ever get negative reactions to art in show?  How do you counter art criticism?
A. When one has spent as much time as I have in the field, you learn to pay attention to who and what is important, remember every person has an opinion, I don’t have time to listen to negativity - life is too beautiful to waste.  

Q. When you programme your titles, what informs the connection between the collections and topic?    
A. I just keep it simple, something that everyone can understand and relate to.  

Q. When people read Citizen E brand name, do they too often think only of Emirati? Was this challenging?  

A. Not at all, E can stand for Everything on Earth, Emirati or European, you make the E what Ever you want it to be
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Q. What’s next project in the pipeline?  
A. To bring back Jalal’s Art Trip in 2017.

Q. What would be your ideal in-gallery photography policy? How much value do you give/associate to photo publicity/campaigns to art events.

A. We are surrounded by snapping pictures and videos, our brains have become accustomed to receiving thousands of images a day, unlike the old days, now we see much more visual garbage that for us to pay attention to what is important swiftly gets buried in our brain by a new pile of visual garbage. My ideal photography policy would be to look at the art and not take a picture of it for at least 15 minutes before you reach for your smart phone to click a picture of it. Teach your memory to preserve the image of the artwork, then after you are done you are allowed to snap away.

PS: Thank you for reading and staying inspired in art all around you!

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

While You Are Sleeping

That is the title of this work here below. It is showing at an art exhibition titled “Realism: Two Angles” in Abu Dhabi. 

In this interview, visiting Crimean artists Katerina Spirtus and Andrey Dudchenko, the duo behind “Realism: Two Angles” spill their mind. Katerina mentions the challenges of an artist mother, while Andrey tells how money helps you stay inspired in life. 

Katerina's works reflect occupied Crimea's affected psyche in all areas of life, whereas Andrey's interests perhaps are those... snatched away and approximated moments of fickle life, watching beyond the object’s limits, the tale without words. He attains through his frames a state when the object stops being itself. It becomes the certain abstract physical form, attractive and trembling... the results can be compared to a visual extraction of meditation. His inputs pushes the viewer to a state of inviolability, making the time to stop.

Emerging Crimean artists Katerina Spirtus and Andrey Dudchenko at the opening of their show Realism: Two Angles in Abu Dhabi

Visitors at N2N Gallery in Nation Towers, Abu Dhabi
One of Andrey's works from show. The artist loves the works of Middle Eastern art scene's
emerging Syrian artists Houma Al Sayed and Tammam Azzam.
The visiting artists with Natalya Muzaleva, Founder and Artistic Director of N2N Gallery. The gallery is actively striving to bridge Abu Dhabi to the vibrant and emerging art scene of the Eastern Europe. 

Selected excerpts of the Q&A

Describe yourself in 100 words

Katerina: I have always been interested in art. When I was six I started going in art, so I have been an artist all my life. I like discovering the world and to learn new thing, especially something that I have not done before, like skating or even playing on a piano. I like people so much, they make me fell alive and push me do my art. There is a miracle in my life - my daughter Eve who does not let me stay in one place and who makes me change and grow. After her birth, my paintings are filled with completely different content - they have more peace and wisdom.

(Adds) In my opinion, being a mother and an artist is very difficult task.

Andrey: I am man of creativity and my whole life is about art. My father was an artist and I grew up in an artistic environment surrounded by talented people, so there was no other way for me than to become an artist.
Most of the time I spend deciding on what I should paint. However, once is done decide on my subject, nothing can stop me. Every time I paint, I fall in love with my work. However once it is done I fall in love with the next one. The world is full of interesting things, and it is hard for me to limit myself.

How did you meet each other?
Katerina: We attended the same Art Academy, where we met and fell in love at the age of 17.  We have never been apart ever since; we travel and paint together. Andrey is my support and my inspiration.

What is your future plan?
Katerina: This is the first time that we are visiting the United Arab Emirates and the first thing I am going to do, when I go back home is to express all these new impressions on the canvas.

Andrey: My future plan is a new series of works. I have also been inspired by this incredible country.
How did the UAE exhibition happen and how is it going?

Katerina and AndreyEverything happened thanks to the gallery. The gallery management discovered us and invited us to exhibit our works at Abu Dhabi. The opening night was very nice, with a lot of people from different cultures, with different interests. We felt a strong response to our work. We are deeply honoured to see that people are interested in our work.

What motivates your individual style?

Andrey: The nature and everything around me can get me inspired. The most important thing is to find the form, the image that fit my current mood.

Katerina: People! I like and appreciate all people who coming to my life. They influenced me and in turn I get my inspiration from them. In difficult moments jus a few friendly words are enough to make me take the brush.

Who are your icons and why?

Andrey: In my opinion there is the only one answer possible: the God.

One living person you like to thank

Katerina: I am grateful to my mother and grandmother, who have supported me and still keep supporting me in my endeavours and successes.

Andrey: My father. I was attracted to the fine arts thanks to him. He was and still is my first teacher and my biggest support throughout my career.

Message to aspiring artist

Andrey: The most important thing is to stay focused, to analyze and think. You need to find some expression, the main idea you want to depict through your work. Style will be gradually develop itself through practice.

Katerina: To be a hardworker, not to be lazy. The more you work, the more you think, and the more quality you reach in your work.

Who is your favourite art teacher and why.

Katerina: I’ve had many teachers, and all of them were very talented. They all played an important role in my process of establishing myself as an artist. My most important would probably have to be Professor Michael Guida, a world-renowned artist. He was my main guide in learning the art of portrait painting, and I have learned a lot from him.

Andrey: This would have to be my father, first of all. As I have already mentioned he was my first teacher, and he took the most important role in my artistic path. I have also been learning from well-known artists such are Titian, Greco, Rembrandt.

Most inspiring Middle Eastern artist.

Katerina: The Middle East has offered a particularly unique art to the world which is excellent in its kind. I honestly admire the unique art and tradition of this region. It is very hard to pick only one artist, but if I had to, that would have to be an astonishing Iranian artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian.

Andrey: I really appreciate the works of young Syrian artists Houma Al Sayed and Tammam Azzam.

Most inspiring modern contemporary artist

Katerina: Only one name comes to mind: Alexandr Gnilickiy. In order to understand why, just take a look his work.

Andrey: There are many very talented artists all over the world and each country has their own brilliant contemporary artists. That is why is difficult for me to choose only one.

Most inspiring realist artist 

Katerina: I am in love with works Andrew White. He is the master of realism.

Andrey: I have to say that I am not a fan of realism in its purest form. I do adore the works of the American modernist artist Georgia O’Keeffe. She is a part of school of realism, but at the same time her art cannot be considered as direct realism.

Your favourite place to live and work.

Katerina and Andrey (in one voice): Crimea! It is a beautiful place, our homeland and the place where we grew up. It is the place we understand the best and love the most.

What does money mean to you

Andrey: Money is a tool to achieve our independence and to allow our children to build a financially-sound future.

Katerina: I absolutely agree (to Andrey).

What do you think of UAE's art scene.

Andrey: This scene is recognised all over the world for its rapid and dynamic development. We are particularly impressed by the wisdom of its leaders of this country who recognised the economic potential of cultural tourism. They were able to position the UAE on the global art map and surely this position will be even more important in the future.

What do you aim to achieve through workshops in Abu Dhabi

Katerina:  My expectation was to get a new experience and new emotions by teaching a different group of aspiring artist. And I definitely got what I had wanted. First of all, I was pleased by the number of students, and how they were grateful for learning new things and persistent in the learning process.

For more details contact the gallery:
Mobile: +971 50 594 0794
Tel: +971 2 665 9858

The two artists, who are partners in art and love, base their artistic expression in realism, which they interpret in a different way, both iconographically and stylistically. Still, their individual poetics are connected into a common endeavour to achieve a new kind of idealised subjective realism. These similarities and differences will be the backbone of the exhibition setting. The show opened on November 24 at N2N Gallery at Nation Towers, Abu Dhabi. The exhibition will run until January 10, 2017.

Season's best wishes. Thank you for staying inspired in art all around you!

- B'lu

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Gu's Goo - Bananas Are Art!

Those who visited the Abu Dhabi Art may wonder if UAE is taking over the world's banana business. I was going bananas to find another title for this edition of this much anticipated annual art fair that brought amazing art to this part of the world. The venue was just about 20 minutes drive from my studio and home, and there was no way I could have let those bananas rot without once being seen around them with my camera too!

Abu Dhabi Art took place at Manarat AL Saadiyat from November 16-19. There were some brilliant art and lot of food for thought... including lot of Bananas of course!

Gu Dexin, an influential artist from Beijing, whose work consists of thousands of fresh bananas arranged on the floor in a precise rectangle, marked out by urns set on marble pedestals. Visitors were invited to take a banana, eat it, and throw the skin into one of the urns. On the third day of the event as anticipated - the bright yellow fruit turned into a mass of rotting organic rubbish... with onlookers like fruit flies still all over the 'art work' taking their selfies. Gu's goo! Never mind what I call it. Gu impresses anyone who takes a peep at the statement printed and presented near the work (and I have got it below - don't forget to read it). Dexin has achieved global acclaim for his use of perishable materials as a statement about his pessimistic view of humanity. He does not title any of his pieces, which is a reflection of their ephemeral nature but the banana installation is called 'Gateway'. This presentation is curated by Alexandra Munroe, a prominent curator of Asian art and senior adviser of global arts at the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum and Foundation.

Scroll down to see the rest of the show... pictures may tell a million words but then don't skip the captions... they are often more than what may spring out of our head as thought bubbles:

Geitani Bassam_Unfold_Mixed Media on Canvas. Profoundly inflected by specific theoretical endeavors, Bassam Geinati's work, spanning across different symbolic orders and layers of representation, is an on-going investigation of materiality and surface. The is artist is born and based in Beirut. Studied art and lived in Paris for 14 years.
Born in Beijing in 1961, Gu Dexin is one of the pioneering presences of the generation that began making contemporary art during the 1980s. His early paintings, watercolors, and embroideries open up fantastic, dystopian worlds of creatures vaguely human, while his conceptual installations involving raw meat and rotting fruit added a new sense of the visceral to an otherwise analytical and symbolic conversation. In 1989, he was among the three Chinese artists to show in “Magiciens de la Terre” at the Pompidou, the first time art from contemporary China had been inserted into a global context. In 2009, frustrated with the art world around him, Gu decided to quit art entirely. Drawn entirely from private collections, and including over eighty works from the Guy and Myriam Ullens Foundation Collection, this exhibition is the first comprehensive attempt to make sense of the multiple strands in Gu’s daring, original, and sophisticated practice.
This is the art note found next to the installation that made people go bananas at the Abu Dhabi Art's 2016 edition.
This one here probably is no art installation (as there was no note beside it) but caught my attention and took me back to my mother's water garden back home full of water lilies. If it is actually an art work... I really would like to know more. 
Jean Dubuffet_La lande joyeuse. Jean Dubuffet, a French painter, printmaker, and sculptor disliked authority from a very early age. He left home at 17, failed to complete his art education, and wavered for many years between painting and working in his father's wine business. He would later be a successful propagandist, gaining notoriety for his attacks on conformism and mainstream culture, which he described as "asphyxiating." He was attracted to the art of children and the mentally ill, and did much to promote their work, collecting it and promulgating the notion of Art Brut. His early work was influenced by that of outsiders, but it was also shaped by the interests in materiality that preoccupied many post-war French artists associated with the Art Informel movement. In the early 1960s, he developed a radically new, graphic style, which he called "Hourloupe," and would deploy it on many important public commissions, but he remains best known for the thick textured and gritty surfaces of his pictures from the 1940s and '50s.
"Personally, I believe very much in values of savagery; I mean: instinct, passion, mood, violence, madness."
- Jean Dubuffet
Sahand Hesamiyan_Gole Ayne_Steel, Mirror Stainless Steel, and Paint. This work reminded me of Bharti Kher's broken mirrors. Sahand Hesamiyan, born in 1977 in Tehran, holds a Bachelor of Sculpture from the Tehran University and currently lives and works in Tehran.

Gordon Cheung_Here Be Dragons_Financial newspaper, archival inkjet, acrylic, sand and pumice on canvas and sail cloth. Do check the video below to see the finesse in 3D.
Seulgi Lee_U: It is drker under the lamp = Cannot see things which are too close_KOrean silk, cotton, collaboration with Nubi, Korean quilt maker Sung-Yeon Cho.
About U in the artists words. "In this continuity, I am working on a collection of blankets which take some proverbs as patterns. My interest goes toward using the oral culture to make something useful as humanity always did. So it’s going to be the blankets « telling » a story. In Korea, many proverbs are calling to pictures. I interpret them as diagram becoming a composition of colors on quilted blankets. This particular technique, one can find at bedding shops as old-fashioned blanket in Korea. The colors are related to the cosmology in Chinese philosophy. I like this idea that the future sleeper, once under this blanket, can be protected. Otherwise people say that sleeping with the head toward one direction is good... 
This sewing technique is originally hand made and can be found around the world, like for example with Amish Quilt, or boutis provençal and piqué marseillais in the south of France. 
Some diagrams therefore are coming from the following proverbs by order," says Lee. 

This mandala carpet is inspired from patterns in the nature and made by Emirati artist and curator Sheikha Wafa Bint Hasher Al Maktoum. Read here more about how she uses patterns from nature to complete her work.  The artist was recently presented with the prestigious Dayawati Modi Award for Art Culture & Education for her outstanding contribution to promoting during Arts for India event held at BAFTA – 195 Piccadilly London on 19th October, 2016. The event was sponsored by the British Film Institute, London, Pinewood Studios, London and the Columbia University School of the Arts, New York. She is the the first recipient of this coveted trophy in the entire Middle East that has previously been handed to the likes of Mother Teresa, Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan and Hollywood Film Actress Goldie Hawn.
Thought this is a very cool recycled chair using the palm!
Sudarshan Shetty_Untitled_Teak Wood. Born in 1961 in Mangalore, India, Sudarshan Shetty lives and works in Mumbai. Shetty initially trained as a painter, later turning to sculpture and installations which now account for all of his output. A conceptual artist, he is renowned for his enigmatic and often mechanised sculptural installations. His hybrid constructions question the fusion of Indian and Western traditions as well as exploring domestic concerns and the notion of movement.
Cesar_Expansion Blue_Resine polyester stratifie et laque/Laminated and lacquered Polyurethane 158x120x18cm. Art auction website artvalue, prices an approximate 30,000-40,000 euros. A founding member of the Nouveaux Réalistes, César (1921-1998) was renowned in Europe for his outlandish sculptures using unorthodox materials (ranging from industrial rubbish to high-tech resins), innovative forms and novel processes. Born César Baldaccini to Italian immigrants in Marseille, the artist is popularly known in France for several iconic works, including a number of monumental public sculptures in Paris. The 40-foot-tall Le Pouce (Thumb), 1965, permanently installed at La Défense, is a bronze blowup of the artist's thumb. Over the years he produced versions of this work in a wide variety of materials and sizes, make several popular examples. 
Gilles Barbeir_Eternity_Mixed Media. This work reminds one of tarring and feathering - a form of public humiliation used to enforce unofficial justice or revenge. It was used in feudal Europe and its colonies in the early modern period, as well as the early American frontier, mostly as a type of mob vengeance.  The aim was to inflict enough pain and humiliation on a person to make him either conform his behavior to the mob's demands or be driven from town.  The image of the tarred-and-feathered outlaw remains a metaphor for public humiliation. Barbier’s works reflect on the darker and more difficult themes of ageing and the collapse of dreams and ideals. 
Louay Kayyali_The Match Seller_Oil. Kayyali was a Syrian modern artist who graduated from Academy of Fine Arts in Rome, he is known in portrait, nature & flower paintings. This work is oil on masonite chip board and was produced in 1974. His psychological state is often linked to his interest in subjects related to the struggle of the common man. He suffered from depression and died in 1978 from burns incurred from his bed catching fire, reportedly from a cigarette.
Rakan Dabdoub_Architectural figure_Oil on board. Rakan Dabdoub is an Iraqi visual artist who was born in 1930. Several works by the artist have been sold at auction, including 'Untitled' sold at Christie's Dubai 'Modern & Contemporary Arab, Iranian & Turkish Art' in 2014 for $21,250. 

Muntean/Rosenblum_Untitled (They have a curios way...)_Black and White Crayon, Acrylic on Canvas_268x387cm. Muntean and Rosenblum (Markus Muntean; born 1962 in Graz, Austria and Adi Rosenblum; born 1962 in Haifa, Israel) are artists based in Vienna and London. They have been collaborating since 1992. They work in a variety of media, but their most characteristic work involves painted formal compositions, with comic book style captions, of teenage models from fashion magazines. The Guardian critic Jonathan Jones described the effect as "Andy Warhol meets Jacques-Louis David". The pictures of Muntean/Rosenblum are characterized by references to the way we perceive things today, which is influenced by the media, advertising, film and popular culture. These belong to a lifestyle-oriented society where youth is a marketable commodity and “being young” has become an instrument of permanent self-control. The magazines cooperate with specialists in affective image production, appropriating forms that used to stand for protest, utopia and delimitation, as well as allegorical themes and subjects from art history.
Muntean/Rosenblum_Untitled (How simply they seemed...) Oil on Canvas. The artist duo were represented by Galeria Horrach Moya from Spain.
Kim Duck-Yong_The Book - The moment of meditation_Mixed media on wood (mother of pearl).

Zeinab Al Hashemi_Dubai Series II_Digital Scenography. This art work brought to Abu Dhabi by Dubai's Cudro Fine Art gallery reminded me of the recent Dr Strange movie. Strange!
Tian Wei_Tobe - or not to be, ed. of 8_Stainless steel. Tian Wei was born in Xi’an, the first imperial capital of China, and original starting point of the Silk Road, which played a seminal role in linking East and West together in a complex network of trade and reciprocal exchange. Tian Wei left China for Hawaii, in 1986, to pursue a career in the arts. Upon completing his MFA in Hawaii, 1990, he subsequently settled in California. After years of travelling back and forth between America and China, he has been based in Beijing since 2011.  Both theoretically and formally, Tian Wei’s work constructs a bridge between things that appear as dyadic opposites, binary poles or complementary pairs. This perspective of Yin and Yang is deeply embedded in Chinese thinking, and the artist’s frequent reference to Classic texts such as the I Ching (The Book of Changes) and Tao Te Ching appear as quotations in minute script patterning the background upon which larger semi-abstract cursive shapes are drawn. What fascinates me most is that there can always be a switching – perhaps even a continuity - between both sides.’ Tian Wei’s artistic vision is not one that divides or separates the East from the West but one that integrates both, and for this reason it is both timely – and timeless.
Marc Quinn_The Eye of History - Desert Perspective_Oil on canvas_200cm diameter. British artist Marc Quinn's works deals with art and science, the human body and the perception of beauty. His series of Irises offering different perspectives (Desert, America etc).

Henry Matisse_Tete_Pen and ink on paper

Henri Matisse_Femme a la voilette (Woman in veil)_Pen and ink on paper
Henri Matisse_Femme a l ombrelle (Woman in umbrella)_Oil on canvas

Edgar Degas_Le ballet (The ballet)_Oil on panel

Anish Kapoor's works were a part of Galleria Continua
There are plenty more images in my camera and artists I would have loved to mention here, but...

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Thank you for reading and staying amused! :)

PS: Organised by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi), this annual art fair takes place under the patronage of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. It is UAE capital’s flagship annual art event. This time was its eighth edition and feature works of artists from 20 countries via industry representation through participating 40 galleries.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Istanbul: A Museum of Innocence

If you are from Istanbul what do they call you? *Istanbulli? But really found nobody close to being a bully in this friendly ancient city! This *word was stuck in my head since I read about an Istanbulli protagonist in a novel on love, loss and recreation of a lover's paradise built around objects that are mere memories of an innocent time. Istanbul is simply a museum in itself - an innocent witness to its past, present and future as I type this blog. Its mysterious streets may dot many museums but simply being there is no less than witnessing history and geography from a totally different perspective.

Just a few days ago, I was living next door to a unique venue called the Museum of Innocence in Çemberlitaş situated in the heart of Istanbul. If you love to find that special sweet spot between novels and travel to help bring real life places alive through the books you read, this is one museum you should not miss. More than the tragedies in the novel, by the same name, on which the actual museum is based on, my personal tragedy was missing this venue. Blame it on tired legs after 16000+ innocent steps each day in the city. I simply did not visit the museum despite crossing its door at least a few days times every day... keeping it for later sometime. Just like how we miss to take a closer look at something that is near us because our eyes are fixed far away! I missed it. Today's news reports the London premier of the film based on this museum/book. The film is named Innocence of Memories.

In The Museum of Innocence, his first novel since winning the Nobel prize, Orhan Pamuk strolls into this minefield with serene confidence, his own enterprise courting the same unease as that of his protagonist, Kemal Basmaci. Pamuk’s this novel is one of Turkey’s most famous ones. It is set in Istanbul – mainly in the 1970s – and tells the story of one man’s obsessive love for his distant relation Füsun. Over time this businessman, Kemal, who is also a wealthy Istanbulli playboy, spends a decade besieging his beautiful young cousin and then, after certain tragic events, devotes the rest of his life to creating a museum in her memory, stocking it with objects connected to his relationship with Füsun – such as her hair clips, cigarette butts and dirty coffee cups. These objects become a ‘museum’ to his obsession. Not just a love story, the novel is seen as a glimpse into the lives of Istanbul’s wealthy classes and the dilemma they faced in balancing their traditional values with the increasingly attractive Western culture of the time. It addresses issues of sexuality, gender, modernisation and religion, while whipping us along  the streets of Istanbul in vintage American cars and taking us on ferry journeys up the Bosphorus. But Pamuk has gone a giant step further than most novelists. Several years after writing the novel, he has built a real life Museum of Innocence in the part of Istanbul where Füsun’s parents have their home, and where Kemal spends a lot of time hoping to catch a few moments with his love (and stealing the odd tea cup for his collection).

The museum allows free entry to those who bring a copy of the book. A ticket placed in the 83rd chapter of the book will be stamped before ushering the reader in.
More than a love story cum travelogue, Pamuk’s novel is partly an exercise in cultural fetishism, as, after rejection, the lovelorn Kemal meticulously collects every scrap connected with Fusun, however trivial they may seem to fit a museum! For instance objects like panties, nutcrackers, and other trifles recovered from their moments together. I know this sounds creepy to many of us who may have also experienced real-life stalking but the novelist's perspective is different. Hence worth a mention.

British film maker Grant Gee's film is based on the actual museum that Pamuk opened as a real-world counterpart to the fictional one that Kemal creates; a double-meta construction that is only accentuated by the film casually referring to Fusun and Kemal as corporeal figures and Pamuk’s positioning of himself as a fictional character in a key scene in his novel. Pamuk’s habits as a flaneur of the Istanbul streets, and his inclination to see the city as a repository of collective memory, both individual and cultural, will surely give Gee’s film a kick into the most rarefied of intellectual spheres.

Grant Gee's film gained much acclaimed following its Venice premier in September. I hope to catch the movie when it reaches cinemas in the UAE!

More from the art scene in Istanbul

If you are in Istanbul right now try and catch Banksy's art here at Karakoy. It is showing until February 14, 2016.

If your visit is scheduled in February or March this year don't miss the !f. No ifs and buts about this one! The line up for the 15th !f İstanbul International Independent festival was announced at a press event at the Istiklal Caddessi. A total of 112 titles from 40 countries will hit cinema screens in three Turkish cities at this year's  Film Festival, from late February to early March in İstanbul, Ankara and İzmir. The Turkish big screen debuts of some of the year's most hotly anticipated indies will take place at the festival, whose theme for 2016 is “!f İstanbul unites!”, organizers announced at the press conference on Thursday.

This venue on the right hosts !F annually

Snow settles between the cobblestone pavements from Taksim square to Istiklal Cadessi... there at the far end you can see the poster of a much talked about and recent Turkish film Ertuğrul 1890 
International creative collaboration: Here is a closer look at the poster. The first film to be co-produced by Turkish and Japanese directors, ‘Ertuğrul 1890' reveals the roots of a friendship between two nations, and premiered in Istanbul on Thursday.
Also please visit the Blue Mosque, Aya Sophia, taste the Turkish Coffee as well as tea (varieties of it), shop for artefacts at the Arasta Bazaar and spices at Eminönü quarter of the Fatih district (the most famous covered shopping complex after the Grand Bazaar)... pictures below are what I caught in my camera while strolling there this week:

Turkish coffee tastes even better when sipped while watching the Marmara sea from one of the street cafes/restaurants that offer a panoramic view of the whole place!

Stroll along the tram ways and find treasure troves -  magnificence of the ottoman/hellenistic eras on the right and related trivia in form of souvenirs on the left that can be taken home in exchange of liras
Blood red carnations at Sultan Ahmet's Hippodrome signify the deadly event that happened here a few days ago due to a mindless terror-probed activity that killed 10 tourists as a suicide bomber blew himself up in the name of God! or Syria or just something else we may never know fully!

Amazing souq nestled between the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya, offers Ikat silks from central asia, Kilims and other expensive artefacts you may like to browse/buy

A shop's window at Arasta Bazaar

Arasta bazaar has fewer shoppers/tourists during winter mornings
Hagia Sophia pronounced as Aya Sofya - once a cathedral, later a mosque, now a museum... houses brilliant ancient art, relics of two religions, indecipherable scribbles in viking script by guards on duty at the upper gallery, and plenty of friendly cats
Inside Aya Sofya you feel tinier than you are... no matter how tiny you may already be! Soak in all that is still there to marvel in the form of art and culture from a bygone era
Topkapi palace treasury has golf-ball sized emeralds decorating the Topkapi dagger among invaluable other material wealth that the emperor who lived here collected from around the world. The palace also houses some important Islamic religious material that includes some organic remains of holy relevance.
Topkapi display: If you look at the ancient Islamic art patterns closely you will witness that the artists at work were hugely inspired by the shapes of local birds, flowers, fruits... and must have spent long-hours decoratively arranging the forms in aesthetically pleasing geometrical/symmetrical patterns.
Aya Sofya: The mosaic from Constantinople's time started revealing when the Ottoman plastering started withering off with time. Some historians say that the Ottomans could never really fully demolish/cover the Roman cathedral decorative art. Whatever the story is/was... it is worth a look. Simply magnificent, if you ask me. And reminds one of the art in Vatican, Florence and else were in ancient Italy.
Aya Sofya: Imagine if minutes of a meeting where inscribed in stone like this! This is precisely that.
Aya Sofya: A huge marble container from the 5th century used to store/serve grape juice during special occasions.
To taste the true flavours of Istanbul one has to savour its equally unique food too. That will be featured in another blog soon!

Teşekkür ederim! (Thank you!)

This story was published in Gulf News on March 2, 2016
To read it online click here: http://gulfnews.com/culture/arts/a-glimpse-of-istanbul-of-the-1970s-1.1682981
PS: Did you know that Istanbul had very unique vending machines... one where you can pop a few liras and buy a new novel? Another one where you can recycle used bottles in exchange for dog food!