Rumeysa Kiger (@rumeysakiger): Sinopale keeping collective memory alive through art

Sinopale keeping collective memory alive through art

Exhibit-goers view art installations on display at the Old Sinop Prison as part of the fourth international Sinopale, which runs until Sept. 12 in the Black Sea province of Sinop. (PHOTOS: Today?s Zaman, Bahar Mandan)
Located in Turkey?s northernmost tip on the Black Sea coast, the city of Sinop was once notorious for its prison, which was located in the city?s ancient castle and housed many political prisoners. In recent years, however, the city has sought to create a new legacy for itself with the Sinopale, the International Sinop Biennial, in which the old prison now features as an exhibition space.
The biennial?s fourth edition was launched last week with an opening held in the former prison?s children?s unit.The prison, which was converted into a museum in 1999, attracts many people every day, making it a sort of a pilgrimage site. It is quite common to see people coming from all over the country to commemorate a loved one who had lived, or died, there. Apart from Sinop?s dark past, it is the site of several energy project plans, including a nuclear power station, a thermal power plant and several hydroelectric stations, all of which have created tensions between the local population and the authorities.

Aimed both at keeping the city?s collective memory alive and creating awareness of ongoing issues there, the biennial was established eight years ago with the initiative of Professor Melih Görgün, who is also an artist from Sinop. Since then, many national and international artists, as well as experts from the culture and arts world, have been invited to the city and a platform of debate has been created. ?Our aim is to make this a place that enables people to think, to see things in another perspective, to form a dialogue,? Görgün said during the biennial?s opening on Friday.

One of the unique features of this biennial is the volunteer system, which was developed due to a lack of resources and the high level of interest on the part of locals. The organizers, interpreters, public relations experts, hotels, restaurants and all of the locals who contributed to the making of the artworks, whether through their own labor or by providing information, all work on a volunteer basis. One of the biennial?s organizers and curators, Beral Madra, explained that Sinop has now been put on the map of world biennials due to these efforts. She said that in order to make their effort even more transparent, they will be publishing their budget numbers publicly, adding that this will make the success of the event among other biennials in the country even more clear.

Madra also explained that they wanted to use this occasion to provide an opportunity for young people aspiring to become cultural managers. This why they invited Aslı Çetinkaya, Elke Falat, Işın Önol, Dimitrina Sevova, Janet Kaplan and Sean Kelly to curate the show.

?The Wisdom of the Shadow?
The theme of this year?s biennial is ?Wisdom of Shadow: Art in the Era of Corrupted Information.? This concept, developed by Önol, calls on artists and curators to produce works exploring the ?generation of information? not through light but through shadows and darkness, a reference both to the city?s past and the ongoing controversy over development projects there.

The concept is also inspired by the story of the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope, who once asked Alexander the Great to stop blocking his sunshine.

Önol pointed out that not just the exhibition but all the parallel events, such as workshops, forums and talks at the event, focus on contributing to a type of awareness against policies ?disregarding the sustainable life that metaphorically and literally comes from the sun.?

Controversial development projects are not unique to Sinop, of course, but working there in particular has been a great opportunity, Önol said, as it is a very small and condensed city with a very high education level. ?All the young people are going to university. The city is a little bit more open to understanding. Sinopale works as a catalyst to create awareness in the city and the artworks are also done here with the public, so the audience in the city already knows some parts of the work. If you bring in a lot of beautiful artwork from outside that would be a way, but here the audience knows that there is a piece of them inside, so they are more careful to find them. They are surprised and excited to see how their contribution has turned into a piece of art,? she said.

Along with the exhibitions, a city hall meeting was held to discuss the future of Sinop Prison with cultural management experts and city residents since a budget of 9.2 million euros — most of it from the European Commission — will be spent in the next four years to convert the prison into a cultural center.
Venues such as the Dr. Rıza Nur Public Library, the Sinop Archaeology Museum, the Pervane Medrese and the city?s historic clock tower are also being used for several performances and talks.
Sinopale 4 will run through Sept. 12. For more information, visit

Highlights of Sinopale 4
Here is a selection of works to look out for, on display in various venues around the Black Sea province of Sinop, at the Fourth International Sinop Biennial:

* Internationally acclaimed artist Francis Alys?s video piece, titled ?Watercolor,? documenting a performance in which he mixes water from the Red Sea with water from the Black Sea.

* Ashley Hunt?s ?Thunderstorm on a Clear, Bright Day? installed on the stairs of the children?s prison, featuring interviews with people who spent time in the prison and an image of the sky reflected on the ceiling.

* 300 ceramic guns created by İnsel İnal and painted by children living in Sinop.

* Shilpa Gupta?s project ?Someone Else — A Library of 100 Books Written Anonymously Under Pseudonyms,? using the books in Sinop?s Dr. Rıza Nur Public Library.

* A structure resembling a prison cell, created by Volkan Kaplan and A. Erdem Şentürk, that features iconographic images of Sinop.

* A telegraph by Özlem Sulak to recreate Jean-Paul Sartre?s now lost telegraph sent to the Writer?s Syndicate of Turkey in 1977 concerning banned books in the country, including Sartre?s.

* Berglind Hylnsdottir?s light performance on pure water that can only be seen after spending five minutes sitting in a pitch-black room.

* Petra Elena Köhle and Nicolas Vermot Petit-Outhenin?s installation broadcasting the cities? announcement system into the prison.

* A documentary project titled ?Now Wakes the Sea? documenting the culture of Sinop and the Black Sea coast in connection with sea and nature by Yılmaz Vurucu and Bahanur Nasya.

* An exhibition project conducted by Professor Andrea Zaumseil on seeking the traces of Zeynep Çakır, who was born in Sinop and moved to Costa Rica, became an artist and died there.

* Photographs of the hands of local people in Sinop taken by Cat Tuong Nguyen with a photographic black box which he constructed.

Rumeysa Kiger, Sinop
Today’s Zaman Newspaper

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