FOLLOWING THE CANCELLATION OF THE 2015 AKBANK SANAT INTERNATIONAL CURATOR COMPETITION
I was in Cyprus when I found out about the cancellation of the Post-Peace proposal exhibition, which was the winner of this year’s Akbank Sanat International Curator Competition. I have been working on Kemal Ankaç’s Cultural Massacre project for the past year, and was setting up the exhibition and working on its book. I was far away and working intensely on this project. Therefore, I decided to keep silent for a while as I had difficulty in keeping up with the rapidly accumulating emails and phone calls, and furthermore, I realised that I needed time to perceive, grasp, and digest what was going on.
We are going through a period in time in which we are forced to perceive everything as either black or white, and accordingly, we are rushed into making either black or white decisions. To observe this during my silence was as painful as the cancellation of the show. I am determined to stay in the grey area and derive a positive conclusion from all that has been going on. And while doing so, I will not rush.
First off, I would like to talk about the process of this competition. In 2011, I took a proposal to Akbank Sanat to develop a competition that would provide support for emerging curators, reinforce interest in curatorial practices, and encourage new projects in the field of contemporary art, and this institution has been supporting this competition since then, including the first year’s preparations. Since the beginning, the competition’s format and structure has been modified every year according to the experience derived from and feedback given by the jury of the previous year. Three people work as application reviewers in leading up to the selection process, where both the reviewers and the International Jury (consisting of three or four people) change every year. Apart from the 1-person staff who gives technical support, no one from Akbank Sanat is involved in the selection process. I only follow the proceedings of the selection and have no say whatsoever in the results. Afterwards, Akbank Sanat unquestioningly implements all aspects of the exhibition.
This year the reviewers were Annie Belz (Associate, Middle East & Africa, Artforum International), Stephanie Bailey (Managing Editor of Ibraaz, Contributing Editor of ART PAPERS, LEAP and Ocula), and Ovul O. Durmusoglu (Curator and writer, Berlin/Istanbul). The jury consisted of Bassam El Baroni (Independent curator and theory tutor at Dutch Art Institute, Arnhem), Paul O’Neill (Curator, writer and Director of the Graduate Program at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, New York), and Iris Dressler and Hans D. Christ (Directors of the Württembergisch Kunstverein Stuttgart). Since Katia Krupennikova’s proposal was evaluated and selected by proficient names in their fields, it was undoubtedly clear that another great project was to take place in Istanbul. I was aquatinted with most of the artists Katia had proposed - I have been following them closely - and the new names would be new added values for me.
The staff in the institution, the artists, and the curator all spent a tremendous amount of time, labour, and energy. Most of the works in the exhibition were commissioned and produced, the catalogue was prepared, and many artists were invited to Istanbul. Most of the budget for the exhibition was spent. A very strong public program was planned. Hence, as we read in both Katia’s and the institution’s statements, this process was highly appreciated by all the actors involved in the project.
However, Akbank Sanat cancelled the exhibition 5 days before the opening. There was only a one-sentence statement: “Due to evaluations of the delicate nature of recent events in Turkey, the exhibition has been cancelled”. No negative remarks were made concerning the exhibition, curator, or artists.
At this point, rather than throwing trite accusations and coming to rapid conclusions about the incident or those involved, we have to take a step back and think. I believe that it is time to produce some important questions which we should first direct to ourselves instead of coming up with rote answers.
The first question I ask myself is whether there is a possibility of turning this occasion from an unfortunate incident into a constructive occurrence. This is the only thing I strive for at this point. I’m sorry if I have disappointed those who expected a partial statement from me, but I refuse to think in terms of black and white. I still believe that another world is possible.