Pera Museum Exhibit Highlights Byzantine Legacy in Popular Culture

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The Pera Museum, Istanbul’s Folk Art Center, simultaneously launched two Byzantine exhibitions in collaboration with the Istanbul Research Institute. While the first, “From Istanbul to Byzantium: Paths of Rediscovery, 1800-1955″, focuses on Byzantine artifacts from Istanbul’s archaeological museums and sheds light on the development of Byzantine studies in Istanbul, the second, “What is Byzantinism? in Istanbul ! : Byzantium in Popular Culture” explores the representation of Byzantium and the Byzantines in popular culture.

Jonathan Godoy, “The Byzantine Stones”, 2007, fountain pen, with real textures, colors and digital effects added. (Courtesy of Pera Museum)

Organized by Emir Alışık, “What is Byzantinism in Istanbul!” brings together common themes of Byzantine perception in different fields ranging from literature to video games, from comics to music, from cinema to fashion. Initially exploring the multiple and conflicting meanings of Byzantineism, the show then examines popular culture’s interaction with Byzantine heritage.

The exhibition is named after a novel by famous Turkish novelist Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu. In his novel “Panorama”, Karaosmanoğlu recounts the social and political unrest of the years following World War II. The protagonist of the story says in one point: “What is Byzantium?” With this expression, the author, through his character, tries to tell the accentuation of the cultural separation among the citizens of the young republic, their identity crisis and their attachment to blind beliefs as a remedy.

Movie poster

Poster of the film “Bizans Çöküyor”, Arzu Film, 1973. (Courtesy of Pera Museum)

The exhibition, which deals with the concept of Byzantium with its different faces and manifestations, reveals how the symbols and values ​​that represent or are attributed to Byzantium find a place in different artistic mediums. Noting that Constantinople (Istanbul) was naturally – historically and geographically – the homeland of Byzantinism, curator Alışık summarizes the idea behind the exhibition: “While the academic and archaeological ‘rediscovery’ of the Byzantine Empire in the 19th and early of the 20th century had on the other hand a broad repercussion on a wide variety of artistic expressions such as painting, architecture, theatre, music and literature, curiosity about Byzantium and the Byzantines grew over time and flourished in new directions, ranging from unlikely musical and literary genres and painting and film techniques to textile production and new narrative mediums like graphic novels.Although Byzantine history is sometimes used to stir up hostilities through the manipulation of historical facts, the Byzantine heritage is also frequently used to reflect on socio-political issues s complex. And this exhibition reveals how Byzantinism is a far-stretching phenomenon to be encountered even in places one doesn’t usually look at.”

Icons and superheroes

Benjamin Baumhauer, “Neo-Constantinople,” 2020. (Courtesy Pera Museum)

Benjamin Baumhauer, “Neo-Constantinople”, 2020. (Courtesy of Pera Museum)

“What Byzantinism is in Istanbul!” opens into an iconostasis, which is a wall of icons and religious paintings that separates the main space from the section where only clergy can enter Byzantine churches. Traditionally covered with images representing the Holy Scriptures, this wall, prepared in a contemporary design at the Museum of Pera, highlights the influence of Byzantine icons on the emblematic characters and superheroes of our time.

The exhibition features works by more than 50 artists, writers, illustrators, musicians, filmmakers and fashion designers who interpret and visualize the uniqueness and exoticism attributed to Byzantium from different angles.

Necdet Yılmaz, 'Seraphim Gli', 2020, 0.05 micron pencil on A4 paper.  (Courtesy of Pera Museum)

Necdet Yılmaz, “Seraphim Gli”, 2020, 0.05 micron pencil on A4 paper. (Courtesy of Pera Museum)

Max Bedulenko, Aliusio Cervalle Santos and Yurii Nikolaiko bring new perspectives on the Byzantine city and its monumental architecture with their digital illustrations. While Jonathan Godoy, Stelios Faitakis, Taha Alkan and Xanthe P. Russell transform scenes from the holy book with their art, Peter Tirpak portrays a pop-art icon as a saint. Aleksandar Todorovic, like Tirpak, portrays Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as a saint. Known for his extraordinary portraits, Scadarts plays with the mosaic of Empress Irene via iPhone. Fashion designer Özgür Masur’s Byzantium’20 collection and Dice Kayek’s Victoria & Albert Museum-awarded “Hagia Sophia” design testify to the reflections of Byzantine iconography in fashion. While the photography taken by Marco D’Amico for Vogue Italy highlights the Byzantine image, the historical adventure written by Romain Sardou and illustrated by Carlos Rafael Duarte represents the reflections of this iconography in the world of comics.

Illustrator-designer Necdet Yılmaz portrays the famous Hagia Sophia cat, Gli, who died last year, as a celestial being. The cover of the book “Theodora, The Love God of Byzantium”, published in 1948 by journalist and novelist Murat Sertoğlu, known for his serials, and the poster of the film “Bizans Çöküyor” (“Byzantine Collapses”), featuring the character of the Hunnic warrior Tarkan played by actor Kartal Tibet, are presented as examples using Byzantium as an antithesis in the exhibition.

Peter Tirpak, 'ICON!  THE POP-ART ICON!,' 2018-2019, mixed media (acrylic + gold) on canvas, 50 by 60 centimeters.  (Courtesy of Pera Museum)

Peter Tirpak, “ICON! THE POP-ART ICON!”, 2018-2019, mixed media (acrylic + gold) on canvas, 50 by 60 centimeters. (Courtesy of Pera Museum)

The catalog that accompanies the exhibition brings together the articles of 10 researchers who examine and interpret all these representations of 50 artists in various fields of art. Articles dealing with and classifying “Byzantinism” which appears in many areas of popular culture bear the signatures of Roland Betancourt, Felice Lifshitz, Brigitte Pitarakis, Sinan Ekim, Yağmur Karakaya, Elif Demirtiken, Jeremy J. Swist, Marco Fasolio, Haris Theodorelis-Rigas and Emir Alışık.

“What is Byzantinism in Istanbul!: Byzantium in Popular Culture” will remain open for viewing at the Pera Museum until March 6. The Pera Museum can be visited from Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. . On Fridays, as part of “Long Friday”, all visitors are welcome between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. and on Wednesdays, as part of “Young Wednesday”, all students can visit the museum free of charge.

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