Leaps in Contemporary Art in the New Era and the Case of A77

This article is published at Cultural Policy and Management (KPY) Yearbook (KPY) 2010 by İstanbul Bilgi University.


Although the megapolis of Istanbul, which is one of the three European Capitals of Culture in 2010, is lacking a cultural policy strong enough to support Turkey in its bid to enter the European Union, the production of contemporary art in the city continues at a staggering rate despite all the legal and financial shortcomings. Having started to be identified with contemporary art with international art circles and press being drawn to the city by the International Istanbul Biennial organized by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts in 1987, Istanbul is today, for the first time, coming into prominence with international cultural projects and collaborations undertaken by the new generation of private-sector-supported initiatives, galleries and museums founded on principles of cultural entrepreneurship and a focus on contemporary art.

Today, as the state-funded cultural institutions are replaced by new cultural organizations carrying the global mission of the 21st century initiated by private companies, the Turkish art scene is also showing a new face through the dynamism led by Istanbul. As state-funded-and-operated cultural institutions start seeking different formulas of reconstruction, the private sector starts institutionalizing its cultural initiations and investments in the setting-up of art collections, galleries and arts and culture publishing, by providing them with widespread visibility through an extensive sponsorship strategy after the 1980s and through establishing their own cultural institutions in 2000. The Turkish counterparts of the cultural capitalists, who as DiMaggio describes, formed the ongoing system of non-profit cultural organizations that shaped the cultural life of the United States during the 19th century, are now pursuing their own cultural entrepreneurship at the dawn of the 21st century (DiMaggio, 1986: 41-61).

The new era’s private-sector-funded art venues and museums which were initiated at the beginning of the 2000s illustrate this best.[1] We can observe that there is a general opinion prevalent among art professionals that the state’s relationship with contemporary art today will not undergo any reforms or be engaged in any contemporary issues. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the state’s only link with the culture and arts sector, has not yet launched a grants scheme with a contemporary art focus. This situation leads to the acceptance of the private sector’s recent cultural entrepreneurship, whether it is in the format of private family foundations or ‘Kültür A.Ş.’.[2] The necessity for a funding model that would enable the emergence of independent organizations that would not pursue the policy of any government or private corporation and would be formed by individuals or artists who are professionals in the management of cultural institutions has yet to emerge as a discussion topic.

On the other hand, European cultural institutions are called on to enter into cultural collaborations with cultural institutions in Turkey, where European Union membership negotiations started in 2005. A tricky situation faces the European institutions, which upon this invitation embarked on a search for Turkish cultural institutions with the capacity to run an international project and the existence of a cultural management staff. They found a culture and arts scene removed from EU standards, which questions whether to pressurize its own state to form a contemporary art policy, encourages the private sector instead of the public sector to make cultural investments, focuses on a single district in the largest and most densely populated city of its country, which grows with civil initiatives and entrepreneurship and lacks the necessary legal regulations that would allow it to become a sector. Now without having succeeded in transforming those residents defining themselves as part of the metropolis (which has experienced a 20-fold increase in population due to migration during the past fifty years) into an art audience, and with the question: ‘Is there art outside Istanbul?’ posed by European cultural institutions and the new grants schemes launched for non-Istanbul cultural activities, this art scene is once more turning to Anatolia in the footsteps of the early Republican artists who undertook the mission to ‘bring civilization’ to Anatolia in the period 1923-1950.

In Turkey, contemporary art still refers to art production in major cities, Istanbul being the sole centre for most people. ‘There is almost no art outside the city limits of Istanbul. Ankara is a wasteland, it is difficult to see contemporary art in Anatolia except for a few institutions like DSM (Diyarbakır Arts Centre) in Diyarbakır, K2 in İzmir and A77 in Antakya’ says Beral Madra in her article entitled ‘Art in Anatolia: Scant and Sporadic’(Radikal, 2008). Madra reveals to us that Anatolia does not stand out with its own artists and production but rather starts to gain visibility by becoming the subject of the works of artists from major cities. And she rightfully points out that, despite the international projects it engages in and its globalized status, Istanbul-based art production, which has not yet formed a strong relationship with Turkish society and uses Anatolia superficially only as material, cannot overcome its ‘puniness’.

Artist groups, which we can describe as collectives, formations or initiatives that ‘act together’ and have been especially visible in Istanbul since the 1990s, are the hidden force facilitating the creativity and production which form the foundation of this current cultural dynamism. In Turkey, these organizations came to the fore in Istanbul especially during the 2000s, under the title ‘artist initiatives’ or ‘alternative spaces’ and through their international collaborations, they rendered contemporary art visible in a city where only a handful of venues hosted contemporary art before 1999.

Well, is Anatolia really a desert for contemporary art production while the art scene in Istanbul is rapidly being integrated into the dynamics of the global art scene? To find the answer, we will first touch on recent signs of life in Anatolia and refer to artist initiatives there as the resource of mobilization. This article will mainly focus on the past decade but it would certainly be a big mistake to assume that contemporary art exists only in a few cities in Turkey. There is a particularly effective visual art production in the provinces that have universities with fine arts faculties, and various artists whose names we have become familiar with in the big cities today actually received their artistic training in these small city universities.

Moreover, as we consider the wider framework and not only within contemporary art, it is possible to speak about the reality of many artists who are involved in both traditional and modern styles of production in the field of visual arts. However, we will basically be talking about those artist intiatives in the last decade that have been integrated into the global network of the arts scene, which act as a collective by establishing a venue or by being included within a legal structure rather than acting individually.

The purpose of this article is to ponder on whether the rupture caused by this movement in Istanbul would have a similar impact in Anatolia or not, especially in the case of Antakya-based artist initiative A77; to look at whether the only possible stakeholder of a contemporary art movement to spread across Anatolia in the future could be artist initiatives.

Artists Initiatives in Istanbul and Anatolia

While Istanbul tries to discover Anatolia, during the past few years prompted by the interest of European cultural institutions, we see that there are in fact various developments in contemporary art that began previously in Anatolia and that these are specifically those civil and artist initiatives, mostly led by organizations in the field of visual arts, also discussed by Beral Madra.

These formations, defined as structures founded, run and maintained by artists or artist-run initiatives, tell us of an interdisciplinary and intercultural movement that represents resistance against ongoing economic, political, social and artistic conditions. As the common denominators unifying these structures we can mention refusal to accept any form of management other than that of the artist with the artist’s freedom/will to move outside the market rules and with control over the dissemination and distribution of his/her own products, the facilitation of new, experimental and conceptual works by not seeking profit, and the promotion of young artists able to adopt a critical approach to the art scene.

Artist initiatives, which have made their names known through the controversial groups formed by avant-garde artists in Europe and USA in reaction to the commercial practices of museums and commercial galleries since the 1950s, ironically owe their popularization and dissemination to the grants of the Visual Arts Programme of the National Endowment of the Arts that was the biggest gate of central government’s support to the arts in New York during the 1970s. Meanwhile today, although artist initiatives do not receive commercial income, they owe their continuity to private foundations or government grant schemes. We can see that most of the alternative artist movements taking root today are becoming a part of the contemporary art market at an unprecedented rate with their collaborations with museums, galleries, fairs and biennials.

The Artist Initiative Movement in Istanbul

The ‘1st International Artist Initiatives Istanbul Meeting’ organized by the Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture Agency(ECOCA) in cooperation with Art Pie as a parallel event of the 11th International Istanbul Biennial in October 2009 at the Istanbul 2010 Kadırga Art Production Centre made the initiatives engaged in art production focusing on international collaborations during the last decade in Istanbul visible, not just in the eyes of the contemporary art circles but to the entire media (İstanbul 2010 ECOCA, 2009).[3]

The increasing visibility of artist initiatives in the city as their practices became more widespread coincides with the end of the 1990s and beginning of the 2000s.[4] Today we can count at least 23 artists initiatives with or without a space, who are engaged in the field of visual arts by regularly holding exhibitions or hosting talks/meetings, which are involved in constant production and have widespread visibility.[5]

In addition to their visibility in the city, artist initiatives are also the most active institutions carrying the art production in Istanbul to Europe. In this regard, we can mention Pist being invited first to London’s Frieze Art Fair in 2008 and then to New York’s Armory Show in 2010 as an artist initiative; BAS, the only Turkish member included in the international artist initiatives network RAIN’s (Rain Artists’ Initiatives Network) showcasing the artist books of Turkish artists at international fairs, museums and publishing houses with its Bent series; or the fact that nine out of the ninety artist initiatives invited from around the world by the not-for-profit art fair Kunstvlaai/Art Pie held in Amsterdam in 2009 were from Istanbul.[6]

Contemporary Art Movements in Anatolia

In cities outside Istanbul, initiatives shaping the life of contemporary art also exist though they are not as numerous. However it is worthwhile to look first at those civil projects and movements which ensure the visibility of these artist initiatives, which we will discuss later.

Not as an artist but as a civil initiative, Anadolu Kültür A.Ş., which maintains its belief in the transformation that culture and arts will create in Anatolia, despite all the reactions of the extreme nationalists it has drawn since 2002, brings both Istanbul and international-based contemporary art events especially with its Diyarbakır and Kars Cultural Centres to these cities.

The ‘Local Cultural Policies’ programme, whose foundations were laid in 2004, continues its activities in the cities of Antakya, Çanakkale and Kars for 2008-2010 (Anadolu Kültür, 2010) under the title of ‘Invisible Cities: Building Capacities for Cultural Transformation in Turkey” in partnership with Istanbul Bilgi University, the Boekman Foundation and the European Cultural Foundation with Matra support of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The ‘DirectLink: Intercultural Dialogue through Art’ project,[7] run by Istanbul Bilgi University in partnership with Anadolu Kültür through international partnerships with the support of the European Commission’s ‘Civil Society Dialogue: Culture in Action’ Programme in 2008, is another project implemented to discover independent culture-arts producers, art initiatives, contemporary artists, art institutions, arts and cultural managers, festivals and independent organizations in Anatolia and to facilitate them into the international networks.

The most effective initiatives drawing attention to Anatolia are the contemporary art biennials that have started to emerge in different cities one after another. The Antakya Biennial which will be organized with the support of the International Istanbul Biennial and MATRA fund in 2010 following its 2005 and 2007 editions carried out with local initiatives;[8] the Sinopale which the Istanbul-based European Cultural Association started organizing in 2007 with its third edition running this year;[9] the Çanakkale Biennial which was first held in 2008 as part of the 45th International Troia Festival;[10] and finally the Mardin Biennial which started this June with support from the Governorship of Mardin and Prime Ministry GAP Administration.[11] We can assume that the seeds of all these new biennials were planted with the parallel events – panel discussions, artists’ film screenings, talks with Turkish and foreign artists – of the International Istanbul Biennial organized outside of Istanbul as of 2003, allowing international art experts to enter into collaborations with cultural actors in various provinces across Turkey.

Meanwhile, the ‘Meeting Point’, which was first organized in 2007 in the Gülpınar village of Çanakkale by Ece Pazarbaşı as a civil initiative with the goal of experiencing and promoting contemporary art outside the invisible walls of Istanbul and has continued in Büyükhüsun under the auspices of CUMA Istanbul Contemporary Utopia Management Association in 2009, has offered a different approach to art initiatives in Anatolia by bringing local and international participants together with contemporary art for a week in a village.[12] Meeting Point has been a new contemporary art movement in the region alongside the Assos Festival, which was run by Hüseyin Katırcıoğlu from 1993 until he passed away in 1999,[13] and the art and philosophy school Taşmektep active in Adatepe since 2001.[14]

The Istanbul-based Gola Culture Arts and Ecology Association[15] also draws national and international attention to the cultural and ecological values of the East Blacksea region with the Green Yayla Culture, Arts and Environment Festival it has been running in Yeşilyayla for the past five years.

Although still small in numbers, the culture and arts grant schemes, which have become more widespread lately, are now also supporting activities in Anatolia. The Istanbul 2010 ECOCA has supported various projects with the mission of increasing awareness of contemporary art in Anatolia through its Visual Arts Directorate run by Beral Madra since 2008. The Anatolian Enlightenment of Art, which aims at bringing together the works of 18 groups of artist candidates teaching and studying in the fine arts departments of fifteen universities from various provinces of Anatolia together with residents of Istanbul through exhibitions held until the end of 2010, is one such project (İstanbul 2010 ECOCA, 2010).

The Arts and Culture Network Programme (ACNP) initiated in Turkey in 2008 by the Open Society Institute, the founder of which is the Hungarian-American businessman George Soros, has been supporting art initiatives like Van Women’s Association, which were previously unheard of in the culture sector, though it only awards a symbolic grant covering thirty-three per cent of the total project budget.[16]

Moreover, the foreign consulates’ art and culture grant schemes, which made great contributions to the development of contemporary art life in Istanbul in the 1990s, are also now reaching out to Anatolia. The Istanbul Goethe Institute’s international literature project ‘On the Roads’ that took place across 24 provinces between May 2009 and June 2010 with the financial support of the European Union ‘Cultural Bridges’ programme (Istanbul Goethe Institute, 2009);and the British Council’s ‘My City’ project, which aimed at raising European awareness of the cities in Turkey other than Istanbul and different cultural structures (British Council, 2010) are two examples with the largest budgets.

Exactly two years after Madra’s article, Ankara embraced ‘Cer Modern’ with the renovation of the disused train wagon repair building by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism with the support of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB).[17] The case of ‘Cer Modern’ can be viewed as an example of the investments that the private sector and state will start to make in the contemporary arts. Furthermore, the Eczacıbaşı, Koç and Sabancı families who have built their cultural institutions in Istanbul and can be considered the first art patrons in Turkey, have now started making art investments in Anatolia.

All of these initiations and the new developments, which will emerge with the influence of the European Commission Civil Society Dialogue grant schemes aimed at supporting culture and art production in Anatolia, can to some extent facilitate a new movement in Anatolia by means of contemporary art.

Artist Initiatives in Anatolia

K2,[18] which started gaining visibility in Izmir in 2004 and was active as the only independent artist initiative of the city until 2008, has this year undergone a transformation, re-engaging with the international partnerships it used to take part in; it is still the only contemporary art centre associated with Izmir.

After announcing their decision to work independently from the K2 art centre due to the disruption of the initiative’s operation and cohesion in a joint declaration, the ten artists, who were responsible for all ongoing activities until 2008, became part of the contemporary art market in Istanbul as individual artists.[19] After this, K2 was taken over by Ayşegül Kurtel who owns the space, and will launch new projects in the near future.

Formed as a collective short film and video movement mostly by members of the Middle East Technical University (METU) scene in Ankara in 2004, VideA remains silent after putting online a short film archive they had built up in order to put an end to the invisibility of short films and independent works, and particularly to facilitate the circulation of ‘young’ works produced in the country since the 1990s.

Kozavisual,[20] has organized around 60 workshops, international conferences and seminars; opening up the relatively unknown field of visual anthropology/ethnography, which has not yet fully matured and been institutionalized in Turkey. Producing projects that relate visual arts and media to history, philosophy, sociology and anthropology, it most recently gained recognition with the ‘Art and Desire’ seminars held in Istanbul in June 2010.

Meanwhile, A77 is perhaps the only genuine Anatolian artist initiative that has not shifted its focus away from Anatolia after becoming better known; instead of choosing to reside in big cities like Izmir or Ankara, it takes a different stance in Antakya, which is an Anatolian city still questioning its links with the past. So, what is it that brings together A77 as an initiative, keeps it together, ensures its continuity and prevents it from giving up Antakya? Finding the answers to these questions first requires us to touch upon the life of contemporary art in Antakya.

Contemporary Art in Antakya

Although Antakya, the administrative centre of Hatay, one of the border provinces of Turkey has a deeply rooted history cited as one of first four cities of the world according to legend, it is still trying to mend the bridge between its past and future with its current population of 400,000. The absence of the Roman Bridge, which was the symbol of the Orontes River and the ancient city of Antioch itself from the 3rd century until its destruction by the State Water Works in 1970, is now the symbol of the lingering melancholy in the city.

As one of the few cities that can still be identified as heterogeneous in terms of identity, Antakya is today home to Arabic Alewis alongside Turkish Sunnis and a small Greek Orthodox (Rum) and Armenian population after the exodus of Christians during the 1980s. The number of buildings reflecting the heterogeneous texture of the city has diminished with the unsightly concretization taking place lately. Although the streets, which were once witness to new era urbanism and a vibrant social life, are now subject to dense motor traffic and air pollution, they are still teeming with Antakya residents who choose to spend most of their time outdoors socializing with women and men from the whole community.

Due to the support of the Municipality and the entrepreneurship of residents of Antakya, the scene of performing arts is especially colourful. The Antakya Municipality has Turkish Folk, Turkish Classical and Sufi Music groups and a Folk Dance group. There is no shortage in terms of performing arts venues with a Cultural Centre housing a 450-seat theatre, a 1600-seat Open Air Theatre and a 150-seat Chamber Theatre together with amphitheatres with a capacity of 2000 people in two different neighbourhoods. The Antakya Festival that has been organized by the Antakya Municipality for the past 20 years to celebrate the Liberation Day of Antakya with the participation of international folk dance groups, concerts, photography and painting exhibitions; the Antakya Theatre Festival organized by the Municipality City Theatre every May; the Samandağ July Culture and Arts Festival with an annual audience of 40,000 organized by the Samandağ Development Association since 2004; and the Yeşilpınar Daphne Culture Festival held every August since 2005 by the Yeşilpınar Municipality are the first that come to mind among the countless festivals populating the colourful events calendar of Antakya.[21]

Equally, a civil social life carried out with an active social awareness in the city is also present in the city. Thanks to the volunteer work of the Hatay Amateur Artists Association, which above all, forms a cultural bridge between Syria and Turkey with the activities it has been running since 2007, the Municipality Theatre tours with Arabic and Turkish children’s plays alongside plays by local writers.[22] With their interpretations of traditional Arabic Alewi music, Grup Nidal, which has made an album of the Arabic songs from the villages, is another artist group maintaining multiculturalism in the city. Yener Bookstore, supporting the literary side of festivals, and the Antakya Local History Group formed during the local history workshops initiated by the History Foundation of Turkey at the end of the 1990s, are other NGOs active in the city.

We observe a less colourful city life in terms of visual arts however. Hatay Archaeological Museum, the only mosaic museum in the city and the second largest one in the world, is struggling with great budget deficits that are in sharp contrast with the vast history and cultural riches it houses. There is only one gallery that regularly holds contemporary art exhibitions: Zet Art Gallery. One of the most frequently used exhibition spaces is the Municipality’s Exhibition Hall. Civil society initiatives do of course also exist in the field of the visual arts. There is the Antakya City Academy Association founded with the aims of establishing a city museum, creating a transparent and participative cultural policy and supporting disadvantaged groups in the city; Güney Rüzgarı Dergisi (South Wind Magazine) published for years single-handedly by journalist Mehmet Ali Solak, campaigning for the conversion of the Governor’s House, the former People’s House and the Industrial Vocational School into a museum quarter;[23] and the Antakya Photography Group which has been organizing group exhibitions since 2001.

Antakya-born Baki Bilgili, who lives in Istanbul, has been engaged in producing projects related to Antakya both personally since 1999 and through the Antakya Academy Association he founded as of 2006.[24] We can list the Doğunun Kraliçesi Antakya (Antakya – Queen of the East) Documentary Film (2000), Chamber Music Concert with the Participation of Turkish Hungarian Artists (2002), the 1st Antakya Biennial (2005), the 1st International Antakya Biennial (2007) and the 2nd International Antakya Biennial set to start in October 2010 can be listed among the activities that have been organized so far.

However, what renders contemporary art visible in Antakya is an artist initiative – A77.


Engaged in activities in Mardin, Diyarbakır and Istanbul while based in Antakya since 2005, the ten-member art collective A77 is a group formed by Melih Apa, lecturer at the Department of Sculpture of Mustafa Kemal University, Seher Kurt and Cüneyt Kurt, lecturers at the Department of Painting, and their current students and graduates: M. Hakan Bitmez, Mehmet Çeper, Volkan Eray, Mehmet Fahracı, Emrah Gökdemir, Fatih Tan and Ediz Yenmiş. Although initially embarking on the venture with a larger group, today only those able to find a harmonious balance with each other have stayed in A77 where the student-teacher relationship only remains at the level of salutation.

The first activity that put A77 on the map was the Antakya Contemporary Art Meeting organized in spring 2006 and the exhibition entitled ‘Aslında Öyle Bir Şey Yok’ (Actually There is No Such Thing) took place within this framework. The next exhibition entitled Cinsel Tema (Sexual Theme), presented as an installation on the ruins along the İskenderun Road the same year was followed by the exhibition entitled ‘Sen Ne Sanıyorsun’ (What Did You Think?) organized together with artists from Mardin-Kızıltepe at an old Turkish baths (Ateşler Eski Hamamı) at Kızıltepe, Mardin in 2007 and the ‘Video Days’ held in Antakya in 2008. In 2010, A77 took the Yerolmayan (Nonplace), which was their first exhibition held in Istanbul at the Tütün Deposu (Tobacco Warehouse) by the invitation of Anadolu Kültür in 2009, to Diyarbakır Arts Centre again at the invitation of Anadolu Kültür. The Antakya Contemporary Art Workshop on ‘city, self/identity and being an individual in a city’ in partnership with the Antakya Newspaper and the support of the ‘”Invisible Cities: Building Capacities for Cultural Policy Transformation in Turkey” project run by Anadolu Kültür, İstanbul Bilgi University, Boekman Foundation and the European Cultural Foundation, was another A77 activity in 2010.[25]

Not Being Defined

Describing themselves as a ‘rural collective belonging to the Third World’ rather than as an artist initiative, A77 clearly states in their interviews that they are remote from Istanbul, which is the centre of the art world and that there is no such thing as contemporary art in Antakya (Hürriyet, 2006). Nevertheless, they maintain that they are content with the art they produce in their city and are not concerned with achieving more (Radikal Cumartesi, 2009). This discourse actually presents the key to understanding A77. An artist formation satisfied with being in the city they live in and contented with the production they are engaged in.

If we were to look further, we can see that A77 is a collective unwilling to be defined. It startles them to read Beral Madra referring to them as ‘the art institution A77’ in one of her articles. Institutionalization denotes the state, according to A77, and they dislike coming face to face or side by side with the state. The fact that becoming an official organization would require founding an association, which would require coming into contact with state bureaucracy, is one of the reasons behind their current status as an unofficial initiative. Even the grants necessary for continuity and visibility do not motivate them to become institutionalized. Therefore, they do not have an established venue for production, exhibition or getting together, since they have not felt the need to establish a space in the city apart from the atelier at the university that the collective gets its name from. They are cautious enough not even to hold their weekly meetings constantly in the same place. Their previous attempt to meet regularly at Anadolu Kültür’s Antakya office was aborted after the police appeared at the door one day responding to  a bomb scare. For them, a regular space means being identified with venue owners and they do not want to be either linked to or spotted by people they would not wish to meet. In short A77 says ‘those who want to get in touch with us can call us’.

Instead of an official website, A77 runs a simple blog where exhibition declarations, press releases or news and articles are uploaded: http://atolye77.blogspot.com. Visiting the blog, you cannot find clear-cut information about the artists forming the collective, nor a detailed manifesto defining A77. But if you continue exploring the blog, when reading the hidden manifestos within the press releases and interviews, you eventually understand that the four links on the blog are for members of the collective. They explain the reason for this by saying: ‘We only update the blog when there is a new activity […] we are a phone collective!’.[26]

A77 as an Artist Initiative

In his book compiled from interviews held with seven artist initiatives (Hafriyat, Oda Projesi, Apartman Project, Karşı Art Works, mental KLİNİK, K2, Anadolu Kültür A.Ş) at the Tuesday Talks organized at the Yapı Kredi Culture Centre in 2005-2006, Levent Çalıkoğlu identifies seven common features shared by these different formations (Çalıkoğlu, 2007: 11-14). It is possible to examine A77 on the basis of these common features.

  1. Artists who form civil initiatives come together with the awareness that they can have an influence on the public, acknowledging that public conscience is the basis of civility (Çalıkoğlu, 2007: 11-14).

Producing conceptual works as a contemporary artist after receiving classical fine arts education, Melih Apa explains that he believes in the fact that there cannot be an art for happy days because these are times requiring self-sacrifice from artists.[27] Although he has achieved incredible effects as an artist working with sculpture and painting, he states that he has given this up and waits for the time when he can experience this once again. Apa sees contemporary art as an opportunity for Turkey where he says modernism has gone awry with imposed structures that have not become an organic part of life. For him, contemporary art is a medium allowing the questioning of all these issues and its centre is not Istanbul. Thus, A77 which questions its own life through its art can become a centre itself. According to Apa, this is much more comfortable than trying to catch up with a 1000-year-old tradition of painting![28] In this case, we can assert that the public conscience is the common utopia holding A77 together.

  • Even though the word civil refers to a local time and condition, civility in today’s world requires being open to communication with other geographies and communities (Çalıkoğlu, 2007: 12).

As previously stated, A77 is content with producing in the city they reside in. The group members state that, ‘if we happened not to be in Antakya but in another city, we would have chosen the same path and exposed the issues in that locality’.[29] Although their creations are rooted in Antakya’s locality, they explain that they do not look at Antakya from a touristic viewpoint, simply living in Antakya, city-life already provides a wealth of material for group production.[30]

We can discuss how open A77’s relationship is with other geographies and communities. Firstly, it cannot be said that A77 is well connected with either Antakya-based or international art circles. Due to their disagreement in artistic viewpoint as well as in political opinion with the academicians at the Fine Arts Faculty, they do not have a close relationship with academia either.

The fact that A77 has not included the art works of their colleagues at the University in the exhibition that they organized at the Antakya Contemporary Art Days which was their first project, has immediately pigeonholed them into the camp of ‘anti-nationalist conceptualists’ opposing the ‘nationalist traditionalist’ structure. These academicians therefore not only do not show any support for A77’s activities but also prevent their students’ involvement. The most striking example of this is a hostile lecturer who organized a petition to prove that ‘Antakya Contemporary Art Days’ should never have been organized!

A77 says that they did not contact either the Antakya Biennial or the International Antakya Biennial both of which were organized consecutively in 2005 and 2007 by Baki Bilgili, one of the leading businessmen and investors in the city who is also the founder of Antakya Academy Association. This is claimed to be because of the fact that these biennials followed a more conservative exhibition approach, hosting popular parallel events. As for the new Biennial, which will be taking shape with international partnerships in 2010, they remain hesitant. While they assert that ‘if only there was a local biennial/exhibition, […] we are tired of what we are spoon-fed with as residents of Antakya […]. We don’t want something exported here, it should be something that originates from here and effects the agendas!’ They still affirm that they are eager to see artists participating from Syria. However, although A77 members want to get in touch with Syrian artists, they state that they have refrained from reaching out internationally due to their ‘laziness‘ in seeking professionals to establish this international communication as well as the fact that none of the members in the collective has a command of English.

As for the exhibition in Istanbul, not much has changed except for being introduced to a gallery and an artist. They even conclude that opening an exhibition in Antakya is not much different from holding one in Istanbul for they learned from the exhibition venue in Istanbul that the exhibition only had a maximum of ten people visiting daily and that this is a common occurrence.

As regards the invitation made to A77 to participate in the Portable Art exhibitions of the Visual Arts Directorate of the 2010 Agency, they rejected the offer for various reasons: a full conceptual framework had not been specified, the location of the exhibition venue had not been disclosed, and the details of the art work required from them were not stated. These offers of circulation, which would be attractive to many artists or artist groups in Anatolia, are not essential for A77.

  • Civil initiatives no longer use incomprehensible grand manifestos to express themselves but modest texts focused on communicating with everyone (Çalıkoğlu, 2007: 12).
  • The artist needs to leave his/her atelier and be willing to get together with others to talk, discuss and find joint answers so that the culture and ethics of working in cooperation, which is one of the key conditions of being a civil initiative, can be developed (Çalıkoğlu, 2007: 12).

A77 defines their production as a collective by contributing to and commenting on each other’s work through intervention. They approach collective production in three stages:

  1. The work that is displayed as an individual project in the group exhibition, has actually developed out of the collective thought process;
  2. Works produced through collaborations among the group;
  3. Works produced as the collective work of the entire collective.

However, individual projects are still undertaken alongside the collective production: ‘If the department asks for a work for the university, we submit individual works independent of A77.’

  • With an awareness of the emergence of sovereignty across different fields in every moment of life, initiatives support the development of alternatives instead of creating power (Çalıkoğlu, 2007: 12).

In the press releases for their exhibitions, A77 states that it is aware of the constantly changing and almost indefinable global power that ‘manifests’ itself through international capital and organizations like the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organization. One of the reasons bringing them together has been ‘the social injustice created by this force expanding at an unbelievable rate.’ Focusing on the ‘collective creation’s power to transform and convert and its potential to create a challenge,’ A77 regards collective art practices as inevitable in this conjuncture.

The imperative that contemporary art should derive its inspiration from other disciplines compels the artist to reach beyond his/her artistic creativity to such an extent that the process might no longer be termed ‘art’. This new phase in the evolution of art has made it necessary to regard the ground of the continuous flow of life as a laboratory. And it is in the transforming energy of daily life that the A77 Art Collective seeks the source of artistic creation. It ascribes significance to life in the back streets of a city and to the alternative forms of life within that life. It sees the relationships, the hatred, the creation, and the love that urban people experience; it sees those people themselves, as an artistic image in their own right. A77 was founded in a region (Antakya) that has partly escaped the effects of globalization, where differences are still preserved, and where issues related to religious fanaticism and racism have not yet been critically felt (A77 Art Collective, 2010).

  • With the drive to ‘disrupt the established function and meaning of art in its prevailing perception’, initiatives produce communicative works emphasizing the experiential aspect of art rather than an ideal beauty created at the hands of the artist (Çalıkoğlu, 2007: 14).
  • By forming interlingual and interdisciplinary links with art, they create new opportunities of expression, going beyond the recitation (Çalıkoğlu, 2007: 14).

According to A77, there is a nationalist conception of art in academia which has not worked out for the past 85 years and the public feels distanced from art because of this mentality representative of the official ideology. The average person associates art only with sacred talents and craftsmanship. However, the shared position of individuals forming A77 declares that this is not the case, showing that art can exist in our regular daily lives and that art involves resistance. In this sense, A77 employs a common language in their works. Their methodology is to start with readings to establish the conceptual framework as a preliminary, transforming these into images and foreseeing the reactions by empathizing with the audience.

Cultural Management and Sustainability?

 While the fact that A77 artists have volunteered to undertake the organizational burden of all their activities encourages a sense of entrepreneurship, it simultaneously puts them through a tiresome and an exhausting process. They state that they undertook the organization of their first exhibitions thanks to the motivation of a fellow artist at the time whose energy and self-sacrifice that they can hardly credit as they look back now. They do not seem to recognize that fundraising 16,000 TL in cash and services by walking from door to door with no professional help, mainly from Mustafa Kemal University, Antakya Municipality and from local shopkeepers, thanks to their acquaintances and social circles, would actually be a great achievement for an organization in Istanbul too.

It is stated that some of these activities organized with the desire to make contemporary art visible in the city but without a mission to reach greater audiences generate good audience turnout while others do not. After all these experiences and the organizational shortcomings and hiccups, A77 members view the lack of a non-artist member among them as a significant disadvantage.

A77 clarifies the reasoning behind the fact that they did not sustain the well-received Antakya Contemporary Art Days, which could have been a regularly organized event, attributing it to their unwillingness to deal with the new administrations at the University and the local government which had been unsupportive towards A77, together with a lack of motivation to do the necessary work and unwillingness to ‘go to the same trouble’ again.

Organized during the summer of 2009, the ‘Video Days’ ended prematurely after two days instead of four days, having only being attended by staff and the regulars of the café in which it took place and because of mistakes made concerning the timing and the choice of venue. The café was located on an abandoned street which people were afraid to enter after dark. However, although A77 states that it did not find a sponsor for Video Days, its mention of the café hosting the event, which provided the audio-visual system and prepared simple flyers to promote Video Days, reveals the collective’s success in securing in-kind support even if the same cannot be said of financial support.

The group makes use of every means to publicize its activities. The conditions under which it puts an annotation are: to expect good from the centre; to resort to using media strategies; to conceal war politics and the greediness of global capital (empire); and to collaborate with institutions whose objectives are pre-apparent (without objectives or defining themselves as only ‘cultural’ bodies) supported by multiple sponsors aimed to cause perplexity’ (A77 Art Collective, 2010).

As the quote above clearly shows, A77 distances itself from grants or sponsors. As they say that ‘we learned from you now that we need to be an association to benefit from funds! We did not consider using funds. We live for the moment!’[31] At the same time they reveal that they do not take account of or make any special effort to achieve sustainability.


We can explain the increase in the number of artist initiatives in Istanbul nowadays by means of such factors as the integration of contemporary artists into international circulation for purposes of education, creation and participation in artist residencies, in order to adopt arts projects based on multi-collaborations and to start their own formations to carry out these projects outside established institutions. Such independent organizations managed and run by artists and the new galleries, and museums that were inaugurated one after another with large corporate investments, represent the two ends of the spectrum in Istanbul’s visual arts life today. Meanwhile, the medium-sized art institutions, which may restore balance by standing in the middle of this spectrum, cannot grow and develop due to the lack of a system of state support with tax incentives or private foundations running grant schemes, as seen in Europe and the USA. On the other hand, we can see that the artist initiatives active in Istanbul can be integrated into international exchanges and enter into partnerships with prestigious art institutions much faster than older and longer-established cultural institutions. The continuity of these collaborations though can result in artist initiatives finding themselves structured into an institutional sustainability and format. There is no doubt that this outcome would conflict with the artists’ initial mission to form initiatives. It is a great dilemma for the artist initiatives that independence relies on institutionalization for its continuity.

However, looking at A77 in the case of Antakya, we see an initiative, which continues its production in the city it originates from, does not pursue a mission to own a space or organize a certain number of events per year, and does not put any special effort into becoming a part of international networks. A77’s priority is to focus on living from day to day and producing. Although this brings with it naturalness of creativity, one can question how enduring this creativity will be and how well it will be able to ensure the continuing production of the individuals forming the collective if certain strategic steps are not taken. The administrative duties, which the ten artists forming K2 undertook without any infrastructural or local support, at the expense of their identities as artists, have resulted finally in their resigning from the initiative in order to liberate themselves from this burden of management. To avoid this end, A77 may need to have a new art administration expert working alongside the members of the initiative. Although it might not need a space, this collaboration will be the only way to provide A77 with an administrative flow and a funding source to ensure the endurance of their creativity and simultaneously allow it to retain its independence.

Appendix 1

Platform Garanti (Garanti Bank, 2001); Sakıp Sabancı Museum (Sabancı University,2002); Garanti Gallery (Garanti Bank, 2003); İstanbul Modern (Eczacıbaşı, 2004); Pera Museum (Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation, 2005); Borusan Art Centre (Borusan, 2008); Borusan Music House (Borusan, 2010); Arter (Koç Foundation, 2010).

Appendix 2

  1. Hafriyat (1996) http://www.hafriyatkarakoy.com
  2. Apartman Projesi (1999) http://www.apartmentproject.com
  3. Oda Projesi (2000) http://odaprojesi.org
  4. NOMAD (2002)http://www.nomad-tv.net
  5. Videoist (2003) http://www.videoist.org
  6. ATIL KUNST (2006) http://atilkunst.blogspot.com
  7. BAS (2006)http://www.b-a-s.info http://basbent.blogspot.com/
  8. Bobin Yayın (2006) http://www.bobin-yayin.blogspot.com/
  9. Hangar (2006) http://www.hangar.org.tr
  10. PiST (2006) http://www.pist-org.blogspot.com
  11. Kurye Video (2006) http://www.kuryevideo.org
  12. Amber (2007) http://www.a-m-b-e-r.org
  13. BM Suma (2007) http://bmsuma07.blogspot.com
  14. Caravansarai (2007) http://www.caravansarai.info
  15. Daralan (2007) http://www.daralan.blogspot.com
  16. Tershane (2007) http://www.tershane.org
  17. 5533 (2008) http://www.imc5533.blogspot.com
  18. Artık Mekan (2008) http://www.artikmekan.blogspot.com
  19. Masa (2008) http://masabout.blogspot.com
  20. 216 (2009) http://art216.com/index.html
  21. Mtaar (2009) http://www.mtaar.org
  22. Reccollective (2009) www.reccollective.org
  23. Sanatorium (2009) http://www.sanatorium.com.tr


Çalıkoğlu, L. 2007. Çağdaş Sanatta Sivil Oluşumlar ve İnisiyatifler, Çağdaş Sanat Konuşmaları 2 [Civil Initiatives in Contemporary Art, Contemporary Art Talks 2], Yapı Kredi Press İstanbul, 11-14.

DiMaggio, Paul J. 1986. “Cultural Entrepreneurship in Nineteenth Century Boston” in Paul J. Dimaggio, Non-Profit Enterprise in the Arts: Studies in Mission and Constraint, New York: Oxford University Press, 41-61.

Web resources

Bora, Nihan. “Yersizliğin Koordinatlarını Bulanlar” [ENG], Radikal Newspaper Cumartesi Supplement, 06.06.2009.


Madra, Beral. “Anadolu’da Sanat Tek Tük” [Art in Anatolia: Scant and Sporadic], Radikal Newspaper, Kültür Sanat Supplement, 05.06.2008.


Serin, Ayten. “Antik Mozaik Kentinde Çağdaş Sanat Buluşması” [Contemporary Art Meeting in the City of Antique Mosaics], Hürriyet Newspaper, 12.05.2006.


A77 Art Collective,


Anadolu Kültür, “Yerel Kültür Politikaları” [Local Cultural Policies]

http://www.anadolukultur.org/tr/kultur_politikalari.asp?kategori=4 – (2010)

British Council, “Benim Kentim” [My City]

http://www.britishcouncil.org/tr/turkey-arts-culture-my-city.htm (2010)

Cer Modern

http://www.cermodern.org (2010)

İstanbul Goethe Institut, “Yollarda [On the Roads], About the Project”

http://www.goethe.de/ins/tr/lp/prj/cub/kon/trindex.htm (2009)

İstanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture Agency, “1.Uluslararası Sanatçı İnisiyatifleri Buluşması” [1st International Artist Initiatives Istanbul Meeting]

http://www.istanbul2010.org/ETKINLIK/GP_524725 – (2009)

İstanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture Agency, “Sanatın Anadolu Aydınlanması”, [Anatolian Enlightenment of Art]http://www.istanbul2010.org/HABER/GP_661938

[1] See Appendix 1.

[2] In a press release issued in March 2010, Garanti Bank announced that it would bring together its three separate institutions from the field of culture and arts, the Ottoman Bank Archives and Research Centre and Museum, Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Centre and Garanti Gallery, under the auspices of Garanti Kültür A.Ş. http://www.garanti.com.tr/tr/garanti_hakkinda/toplumsal_paylasim_projeleri/kultur_sanata_destek/garanti_kultur_as.page

[3] The initiatives organized two meetings among themselves long before this event in 2006: The ‘Sustainability of Alternative Art Spaces’ held in Alti Aylik, which had to close down in its third month of opening, on 4 May 2006 (http://altiaylik.blogspot.com/search?updated-min=2006-01-01T00%3A00%3A00-08%3A00&updated-max=2007-01-01T00%3A00%3A00-08%3A00&max-results=20) and the ‘Artist Initiatives Meeting’ held in PIST pursuing the mission to create a common platform for all contemporary art professionals (http://pist-org.blogspot.com/2006_06_01_archive.html). The greatest achievement of the meetings is that the initiatives have now met under the same roof and conceptual framework to discuss existing issues and possible solutions as opposed to having solitary and marginal positions.

[4] Bir Dükkân (1999-2002); founded by Selim Birsel and Mürüvvet Türkyılmaz in Karaköy; and Loft (2001-2003) founded by Halil Altındere and Hüseyin Alptekin in Elmadağ are among early initiatives.

[5] See Appendix 2.

[6] Galata Perform, Apartment Project, Caravansarai, Altı Aylık, Masa, Hafriyat, Bas, Pist, Sinopale (Sinop)


[7] Project partners are La Friche (Marseille- France), Duncan Centre (Prague – Czech Republic), Red House (Sofia – Bulgaria) and Anadolu Kültür (İstanbul – Turkey). Project participants are Contemporary Performing Arts Initiative (CPAI), Bant Magazine, Fabrikartgroup and Goethe Institute. Project cities have been: Antakya-Çanakkale-Batman-Bartın-Doğubayazıt- Eskişehir- Kars- Mardin- Mersin- Nevşehir- Sinop – Trabzon- Urfa- Van- Adana – Afyon – Antalya–Edirne – Gaziantep – Kayseri – Konya-Zonguldak – Erzurum. (http:// http://www.directlinkproject.org)

[8] http://www.antakyabienali.org

[9] http://www.sinopale.org

[10] http://www.troiafestivali.com/canakkale_bienali.htm

[11] http://www.mardinbienali.org

[12] http://www.c-u-m-a.org/tr/projects/buyukhusun/index.php

[13] http://assosfestivali.com

[14] http://www.tasmektep.com

[15] http://www.golader.org

[16] http://www.vakad.org.tr/index.php?action=haber&haber_no=21 Other projects organized outside Istanbul with the support of the ACNP programme are: ‘Dialogue in Motion (ber_A_ber)’ by Koza Visual; ‘After Having Moral Killing’ by ADA Ankara Dance Research Student Association; ‘A Life on Stage’ by Theatre series, Theatre… Theatre… Magazine; TAWHİD/ONENESS Interdisciplinary Performance on Stage by -Sule Ates.

[17] http://www.cermodern.org

[18] http://k2text.blogspot.com

[19] The signatures on the declaration dated 14 March 2008 belong to Tufan Baltalar, Mehmet Dere, Elmas Deniz, Borga Kantürk, Nur Muşkara, Yaprak Oğuz, Esra Okyay, Başak Özkutlu, Nejat Satı, Gökçe Süvari and Merve Şendil. http://k2text.blogspot.com/

[20] http://www.kozavisual.org

[21] Kutlu,Ü.Z.,2008, Antakya Ön Rapor [Antakya Preliminary Unpublished Report], Yerel Kültür Politikalari İçinStratejiler, Anadolu Kültür, İstanbul.

[22] http://www.hataytiyatro.com

[23] http://www.hatayruzgari.com

[24] http://www.akademiantakya.org

[25] http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=290294225109

[26] Interview with A77 (Melih Apa, Cüneyt Kurt, Mehmet Fahracı and Emrah Gökdemir), Esra A. Aysun, 7 January 2010.

[27] Interview with A77 .

[28] Ibid.

[29] Interview with A77 .

[30] Ibid.

[31] Interview with A77.

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