Istanbul Codex

Imago Mundi

Contemporary Artists from Turkey

In the aftermath of the coup attempt that has shocked Turkey, while the whole world watches with concern and dismay as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan moves towards authoritarianism and attacks the secularity of the state, Imago Mundi presents “Istanbul Codex. Contemporary Artists from Turkey”.

Furkan “Nuka” Birgün - Untitled (2015)

“This is an innovative and courageous collection, which asks questions and offers reflections that in turn pose new questions. Like when a stone is thrown into a lake, as Elif Shafak, one of the most important voices in Turkish narrative, wrote, “a circle will form where the stone hit the water, and in a flash that circle will multiply into another, then another”. This is the role of good art. Art that enables us to breathe”. Luciano Benetton

Fırat Bingöl - Children Throwing Stones (2015)

In the words of the curators of the collection, Claudio Scorretti e Irina Ungureanu: “The artworks in this collection are pieces of a true macroinstallation, built with the stories and visions of 203 Turkish artists: a micro-community of artists that tells the present and the past, reassembles the avatars of art, creates, dreams and draws from and to understand Turkey within and beyond its borders.”

Endam Acar - Silent Majority (2015)

“When we started to document and explore the Turkish art scene for the Imago Mundi collection in the summer of 2015, we had the feeling of opening a construction site – with its focal point in Istanbul – for the creation of an updated “manuscript” of today’s Turkey, using only the language of contemporary art.
In other words, a chronicle written in miniatures by 203 artists, selected and invited to this unusual exercise of “artistic writing” on a 10x12 cm canvas. It was, in fact, the playful alliance between the approach of a curator and a chronicler which has
given shape to this collection, inspired at every step by the idea of capturing the microcosm of art and its related fields in today’s vibrant Turkey in this Istanbul Codex.

Elçin Ekinci - From the series Representation of Breasts - as if (2015)

In her introduction to the catalogue, Lora Sariaslan – one of the most important curators and art historians in Turkey – highlights how “Art is an increasingly important and tangible mode of expression within the cultural, ethnic, political, and social plurality of today’s Turkish society.”
“What makes the current art scene in Turkey particularly interesting is the critical, dissident, and transgressive stance of artists towards the ongoing turbulent socio-political events, and their ability to masterfully reflect their ideas and concepts
in their works”.

Sinan Tuncay - Book of Morals (2015)

Alongside a reading of the varied contemporary Turkish art space since the early eighties, Sariaslan also offers an unprecedented analysis of the works in the Imago Mundi collection, which the art historian classifies in a series of visual and emotional categories/items.

Here is a representative selection of works according to this classification:

Ardan Özmenoğlu - Just (2015)


History is re-imagined through the medium of photography in Baran Çağınlı’s work. He uses black and white found photographs of different communities in Turkey that have migrated in recent history. The images that once belonged to the last members of families and were later either disposed of or sold upon the death of their kin, do not belong to anyone or anywhere. His work is called İsimsizler (The Nameless).

Baran Çağınlı - The Nameless (2015)

As a storyteller, Hera Büyüktaşçıyan deals with the palimpsest. A metaphor for memory, the palimpsest brings together history, religion, and the individual. She created a composition that is a mix of books, knowledge, and the constant desire of the individual to reach and retain knowledge in an area laden with repression. Distilled through the traces of history and memory, her work focuses on mapping the invisible or the unknown.

Hera Büyüktaşçıyan - Blind Recorder (2015)


Irony and humour shape the heart line of contemporary Turkish art. Işıl Eğrikavuk puts her ironic touch on the canvas, when she writes a brief note to Luciano Benetton. She pens a “How are you?” note to the founder of the global Imago Mundi art project. With this note, the artist wittily combines irony with the facts of contemporary life, as she includes her thoughts on the current mass of migration and humanity’s overwhelming ignorance

Işıl Eğrikavuk - Dear Luciano (2015)

Criticizing the Western perspective on art and painting, Bedri Baykam’s cynical “This Has Been Done Before” phrase has been an omnipresent leitmotif, almost the artist’s logo, in his art, which ranges from paintings to installations.

Bedri Baykam - Untitled (2015)
Bedri Baykam - This Has Been Done Before (2015)

Complementing this work, Yeşim Ağaoğlu’s statement I Can Do It Too keeps the critical approach alive. She literally quotes the onlookers’ reaction to modern and contemporary art when they fail to comprehend it. She has mirrored this reaction in her artistic career for the past decade. It is not only the “I can do it,” but the “too” that adds a layer that incorporates or implies the personal comparison of the viewer with the artist, almost
neglecting the artist’s aspirations, experiences, expressions, and accomplishments. Both Baykam and Ağaoğlu have created a criticism and visual thinking that are fundamentally relational and work as intermediaries between the artist and the viewer.

Yeşim Ağaoğlu - I can do it too (2015)


An interpretation of self-portrait can be found in the work of Suat Öğüt, who deals with the topic of receiving the “permit”: to migrate, to reside, to work, to live and to love. This is made possible by his Belgian residence permit, which he obtained when he was studying art in Belgium. The inclusion of both sides of his residence permit shows proof of his temporary residence, hence, of obtaining the permit. Öğüt transforms a bureaucratic document into an artistic statement.

Suat Öğüt - Business Card (2015)

In her work, Gözde İlkin focuses on gender and socially constructed identities and attempts to shed light on some of the deepest drivers, desires and fears of human beings through a subjective documentary approach. In her work for the Imago Mundi collection, she deals directly with the gender issue by creating a Turkish identity card split into two, where she combines both the female (pink) and the male (blue) versions. In many cultures, the identity card is still the most common outward manifestation of the sexual, psychological, emotional and sociological identity of its owner and a field of control for the authorities.

Gözde İlkin - ID Card


Sefer Memişoğlu’s The last pixel of Canvas Pyramidion is a convergence of canvas and photography. The artist is interested in what lies in between and focuses on the interaction between the real and virtual aspects of the canvas. In the Imago Mundi project, the surface of the canvas has been minimalized to create a symbolic artistic presence with an index of names: hundreds of artists and hundreds of small pieces of canvas build up a pyramid.

Sefer Memişoğlu - The Last Pixel of Canvas Pyramidion (2015)

One of the first and most important performance artists from Turkey, Şükran Moral creates situations in which social norms are subverted and the suppressed is allowed to emerge. Her performances have taken place in many different locations, ranging from brothels and hammams to mental hospitals, thus disrupting their normal function and turning them into discursive platforms for art. In her Imago Mundi work, she revisits one of her iconic performances – Hamam (Turkish Bath) from 1997 – as she covers her canvas with one of the photos from this performance. It took place in the men’s section of the Galatasaray Hammam as an act of transgression in a society where the role of the woman was – and still can be – defined by men.

Şükran Moral - Hamam (2015)


The urban development that has led to gentrification is an ongoing issue affecting the urban landscape. Onur Girit captures a scene of demolition, a common scene in contemporary cityscapes. What is in front of our eyes is cruelty in the form of rubble, which marks both an end and a beginning.

Onur Girit - Cold War (2015)

In Under Construction, Semih Zeki continues his series We Are Ruining Nature (2010). He expresses the crude reality of the distressing urban destruction and construction which demolishes nature at unprecedented speed.

Semih Zeki - Under Construction (2015)


If we shift our focus away from the environment and its destruction, we can see Gül Ilgaz concentrating on her personal dilemmas in society, and those emerging from the clash between the East and the West, the traditional and the modern. She cuts the canvas into two right down the middle, and then poignantly tries to reconnect the two sides with four safety pins.

Gül Ilgaz - Untitled (2015)

Derya Özparlak often plays with balloons in her works, “hanging” being a dominant concept. In her work for Imago Mundi she creates a playful intervention: a fragment of the canvas turns into the thread that holds balloons together, while the wooden frame of the original Imago Mundi canvas is used as a base for the entire work, creating a “wooden bouquet”. Evolving from the thought bubbles of her first works, Özparlak’s balloons fly against gravity. By creating a colourful world of balloons she attempts to catch and hold onto lightness, both technically and conceptually.

Derya Özparlak - Jigsaw Puzzle (2015)

Credits: Story

Art Direction, Photography and Production

Project Management
Claudio Scorretti

Claudio Scorretti, Irina Ungureanu

Valentina Granzotto

Editorial coordination
Enrico Bossan

Luciano Benetton
Lora Sarıaslan
Claudio Scorretti
Irina Ungureanu
Martina Fornasaro

Editing and Translation
Emma Cole
Sara Favilla
Pietro Valdatta

Turkish and English Translator
Hande Eagle

Art direction
Daniele Tonon

Marco Zanin

Marco Pavan

Special thanks to
Bedri Baykam, Lora Sarıaslan, Hande Eagle, Rosita D’Amora, Luiza Bialasiewicz, İlayda Babacan & Şebnem Kutal (İlayda Gallery), Burçak Bingöl & Ceren Yeltan (Zilberman Gallery), Nuran Terzioğlu (Apel Gallery), Yasemin Elci & Daryo Beskinazi (x-ist Gallery), Kerimcan Güleryüz (Empire Project), Feza Velicangil (Sanatorium Gallery), Tankut Aykut (Őktem Aykut Gallery), Sevil Binat & Melek Gençer (C.A.M Gallery), Gökşen Buğra (Art ON Gallery), Özlem İnay Erten (Bozlu Project), Leyla Ünsal (Versus Art Project).

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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