Monday, 24 September

Istanbul-Armenian Artist: "There is no cultural diversity in Turkey"

Aret Gicir, an Armenian artist based in Istanbul, doesn’t let just anybody enter his studio.

The reason for the secrecy is his series of works regarding Archbishop Mesrob II Mutafyan, the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, now incapacitated due to degenerative dementia.

Only several of the numerous works are ready to be exhibited. Aret says he won’t comment as to the reasons why he’s focused on the illness plaguing Archbishop Mesrob II until the exhibition.

"Even though the works have a political significance, I wanted to free them of political and church related conceptions. I am displaying the paintings of the archbishop solely from an artistic perspective. I want people to see the art in them as the primary idea," Aret says.

From Yerevan to Istanbul

Aret is the only Istanbul-Armenian I have met who carries himself like a Yerevan native. After studying for a year at the Lyon Art Institute, Aret went to Armenia and enrolled at the Yerevan Art Academy.

Now, he walks past the luxurious stores in Taksim Square and when he reaches a small intersection he changes direction towards his art studio which is located in a building that stands out due to its Armenian architectural design.

What can you say about the level of education at the Yerevan Art Academy?

Those with no connection to art are accepted at this school tuition free through their connections. The really worthy students are turned away. The instructional methods are also outdated. You feel that you are obtaining certain fundamental things, but they aren’t relevant to the present era.

Do you mean that there’s a lack of good teachers?

Teachers exist but they have become disgusted with the job. Except for a few exceptions, they’re only there to make extra money. You would think that non-conformist young people would be enrolled at an art school, but in Yerevan you’ll find the opposite; the most conservative. Free thinkers are in the minority.

What’s the difference if we compare Lyon, Istanbul and Yerevan in terms of art?

We can’t compare them to Lyon because that city is in a totally different time frame. Istanbul tries to have the contemporary and exhibit it. They spend tons of money on contemporary art.

Your paintings are hidden away in this room where you work. Why don’t you at least show them in your studio?

I believe there are different ways to exhibit art. It should be done at a formal exhibition. Furthermore, half of the exhibition process involves hiding the works.

Cultural diversity in Yerevan is scarce, but in Istanbul you can meet people of different cultures and religions. Does this diversity influence your art, and if so, how?

I don’t feel such diversity. It’s probably because I’ve lived here for so many years. Such great diversity doesn’t exists here. There aren’t even sub-cultures anymore. It’s all been erased. There is only one culture - the Turkish culture.

In addition to painting you're also a cartoonist for the Agos newspaper. Can you make a living doing this?

I live an average lifestyle. Here too, artists don’t live well.

Photos: Saro Baghdasaryan

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Comments (8)
1. Dave19:52 - 3 October, 2012
Don't you just love the interviewer's question implying "diversity" in Istanbul? The Turks wiped out nearly its entire Christian population and the interviewer thinks Istanbul is diverse. You gotta wonder about some Armenians. You really do.
2. Melik22:17 - 3 October, 2012
Dave - For someone coming from Yerevan, Istanbul definetly appears to be a center of diversity, culturally or otherwise. To longtime residents of Istanbul, however, the city has lost its past "cosmopolitan" flavor due to the exodus/eviction of religious minorities and the influx of rural Turks and Kurds. Then too, there's the state policy geared to fomenting Turkish cultural hegemony.
3. Melik22:19 - 3 October, 2012
Արեթ Գըջըրը Ստամբուլում հանդիպած միակ պոլսահայն էր, ում մեջ երեւանյան ապրելաձեւ նկատեցի ????Aysinkn inch??
4. Kevork06:24 - 4 October, 2012
There can't be cultural diversity in Istanbul by definition, don't you know? Istanbul was the city of the first genocidal act in history. The Turks put in a lot of hard work and effort in making the genocide succeed, so if Istanbul remained a culturally diverse city as before, it would mean all that work went to waste. @Melik, Yerevan not being diverse is not the fault of Armenians, it is a way in which Armenians were able to resist cultural and ethnic genocide with what little they had left. Lack of cultural diversity in Istanbul on the other hand was for the reasons of criminal acts: Turkey has no excuse for this, and I consider you weak comparison to be ridiculous and irrelevant.
5. Phung Duc Nguyen13:23 - 4 October, 2012
First of all "Turks" can come in all descent. You have Turkish people of Bosnian, Albanian, Macedonian, Pomak, Circassian, Kurdish, Armenian, Hamshen, Laz, Alevi and other races. He is just talking about religious vs racial diversity, actually speaking.
6. Alexandre17:20 - 4 October, 2012
Comparing Yerevan to Istanbul in terms of "diversity", culturally, politically, artistically, etc, is akin to comparing apples and oranges. Of course, Turksih state policy has been and remains the forging of a Turkish-centric national identity that has resulted in genocide, political persecution, cultural repression, ethnic cleansing and other human rights vilations. This, however, doesn't negate the fact that Yerevan, in comparison, remains a cultural backwater. As someone who has lived in both Yerevan and Istanbul, this is evidently apparent. I believe the artist is comparing the Istanbul of his youth with the city as it exists today. Yerevan was a dusty small town when the first Armenian Republic was founded in 1918. What cultural diversity existed during the Soviet era? None!! It just wasn't tolerated by Moscow. In the 21 years since independence, Armenia is just beginning to open up to the outside world. The country can't survive in an insular bubble and hope to progress for long.
7. sam16:21 - 5 October, 2012
I work in the coal mines so I can send my son to school to be a mechanic so he can send his son to school to become a doctor so he can send his son to art school.
8. Paulo jan18:29 - 9 October, 2012
I visited the both cities and could feel the lack of cultural diversity.
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