FORWARD, MARCH!

How did Turkey’s integration of Swedish physical culture practices become part of its modernization efforts in the early 20th century?

Kraliyet Jimnastik Merkez Enstitüsü, Stockholm by Kaynak: WikimediaSalt

FORWARD, MARCH!

Narratives on Selim Sırrı Tarcan, the founder of physical education and the Olympics Committee in Turkey, and the accomplishments of his daughters, Selma and Azade are unpacked through visual presentations by Maria Andersson and Nancy Atakan.

Left: Jørgen Peter Müller (Vikimedia) Right: Selim Sırrı Tarcan (SALT Research, Feridun Fazıl Tülbentçi Archive)Salt

GYMNASTİCS: THE ART OF LIFE

A graduate of Mühendishâne-i Berrî-i Hümâyun [Imperial School of Military Engineering], and an active member of the Young Turk movement that revolted to restore the constitutional monarchy during the era of Sultan Abdulhamid II, Tarcan (1874-1957) was sent abroad for a year by the governing bodies in 1909. Seeing this as an opportunity to broaden his knowledge in sports writing and teaching, he requested to be sent to Stockholm to attend the Gymnastiska Centralinstitutet [Royal Gymnastics Central Institute], established by Pehr Henrik Ling in 1813. Tarcan was particularly influenced by the Ling gymnastics, which was characterized by aesthetic, medical, military, and educational attributes. 

Seeing this as an opportunity to broaden his knowledge in sports writing and teaching, he requested to be sent to Stockholm to attend the Gymnastiska Centralinstitutet [Royal Gymnastics Central Institute], established by Pehr Henrik Ling in 1813. 

Selim Sırrı Tarcan, “Şimalin Üç İrfan Diyarı: Finlandiya - İsveç - Danimarka” [Three Lands of Wisdom in the North: Finland - Sweden - Denmark] (Istanbul: Ülkü Printing House, 1940) p. 86-87.Salt

BEFORE THE SONG THERE WAS A POEM

Upon his return to Istanbul, he was assigned to design a physical education system in order to support the ongoing reform endeavours. Training both male and female teachers, he aimed to restructure the social foundations by raising healthy and strong future generations. The Training Festival organized in 1916 was a showcase of these methods and ideals, which were considered required instruments in the development of the Republic of Turkey.

Not only did Tarcan adopt the Swedish approach to gymnastics but also initiated a “Youth Anthem” in the country, by commissioning Turkish lyrics to the Swedish folk song “Tre trallande jäntor” [Three Carolling Girls], composed by Felix Körling. 

SELMA AND AZADE FOLLOWING THEIR FATHER’S STEPS

Nancy Atakan: "A woman born during the Ottoman period [Azade] was my first Turkish gymnastic teacher. She was in her 70s while I was still in my 20s when she retired 35 years ago and gave me a videotape of her exercises. ‘Passing On I’ (2015) is a shortened edited version."
Tarcan’s daughters, Selma (Mimaroğlu) and Azade (Kent) became pioneers in modern dance and therapeutic gymnastics respectively.

Still from the video “Learning from the past/Preparing for the future“ (2017) by Maria Andersson and Nancy AtakanSalt

Inspired by the achivements of Selma and Azade, Maria Andersson ve Nancy Atakan explore the intertwined relationship between the development of physical education and the emancipation of women in Turkey.

Maria Andersson, “Traces” (2019)Salt

Focusing on Selma’s life story (b. 1906), Maria Andersson’s "Traces" (2019) is centered around a photograph of Selim Sırrı Tarcan, who introduced the coeducational physical training system.

On one side of Tarcan is a photograph of Swedish female students practicing gymnastics, on the other, a figurine representing the three young girls in the folk song "Tre trallande jäntor", which inspired the composition of the “Youth Anthem”.

Nancy Atakan, “Between Hope and Hopelessness” (2018)Salt

Moving between real and fictional stories of women figures, the artist’s drawings, videos, and needleworks become crucial means referencing the missing protagonists in history.

From the series “My Name is Azade (Freedom)” (2014) by Nancy AtakanSalt

MY NAME IS AZADE

A participant of Azade’s (b. 1908) physical training classes in Istanbul at the end of the 1970s, Nancy Atakan’s works examine the generational transmission of body movements by focusing on the younger sister’s self-invented practice.

“My name is Azade.
I was born in 1908, the same year the Second Constitution (II. Meşrutiyet) became official. My father was sometimes referred to as the ‘Constitution Lion’ (Meşrutiyet Aslanı). He named me Azade because it means freedom.”

From the series “My Name is Azade (Freedom)” (2014) by Nancy AtakanSalt

“Swedish Ling Gymnastics”

“Babam bize yurt dışına gönderilme nedenini hiç anlatmadı ama bir söylentiye göre, etkileyici bir hatip olarak öne çıkması İttihat ve Terakki yönetiminde hoşnutsuzluk uyandırmıştı. Harbiye nazırlığı yapan yakın arkadaşı, babamı onların hışmından korumak için Paris’te bir göreve atadı.

Others say that the Sultan [Abdulhamid], angered by his activist actions, wanted to execute him, but decided it was best to send him abroad because of his popularity. Whatever the reason, in the spring of 1909, my father went to Sweden to study Ling gymnastics.
This experience changed our lives.”

From the series “My Name is Azade (Freedom)” (2014) by Nancy AtakanSalt

“muscles ≠ good health” “Physical education for women”

“Before going to Sweden, my father believed lifting weights to develop muscles was the secret to a healthy body, but in Sweden, he was supposed to a different philosophy after a year as an observer at the Swedish Royal Physical Education University, he became an expert on Swedish life, Swedish massage, and Ling gymnastics. Later, he trained my sister and I using the information he brought back from Sweden.”

From the series “My Name is Azade (Freedom)” (2014) by Nancy AtakanSalt

“Physical education for women”

Of course, we know that the education of women in general was a part of the modernization effort that began during the Ottoman period, but my father saw two major problems for developing female sports training. First, the law specified that only male teachers over 60 years of age could teach gymnastics to females and second, girls could not move easily with their heads covered.”


From the series “My Name is Azade (Freedom)” (2014) by Nancy AtakanSalt

“Opened School for Teachers of Physical Education”

“In 1926, my father opened a school in Istanbul to teach physical education to teachers and invited two male and one female Swedish sports instructors to Istanbul. In 1927, he also sent two males and one female teacher to Sweden to study gymnastics.”


From the series “My Name is Azade (Freedom)” (2014) by Nancy AtakanSalt

“My sister and I studied in Berlin”

“My father sent my sister and I to Berlin to study gymnastics. My sister was interested in rhythmic dance. To some extent, I was also, but for me developing a therapeutic type of gymnastics was more important.”

Installation view from “Forward, March!”, SALT Beyoğlu, 2019Salt

Drawings, photography, video and textile works by Maria Andersson and Nancy Atakan were presented in the exhibition “Forward, March!” at SALT Beyoğlu between June 27 - August 30, 2019.

Installation view from “Forward, March!”, SALT Beyoğlu, 2019Salt

Installation view from “Forward, March!”, SALT Beyoğlu, 2019Salt

Installation view from “Forward, March!”, SALT Beyoğlu, 2019Salt

Installation view from “Forward, March!”, SALT Beyoğlu, 2019Salt

Maria Andersson & Nancy Atakan, “The Transition Series: Other Levels" (2019) and "The Transition Series: Rotating Time" (2019), From the collection of: Salt
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Maria Andersson & Nancy Atakan, “The Transition Series: Other Levels" (2019) and "The Transition Series: Rotating Time" (2019), From the collection of: Salt
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Maria Andersson & Nancy Atakan, “The Transition Series: Other Levels" (2019) and "The Transition Series: Rotating Time" (2019), From the collection of: Salt
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Credits: Story

“Forward, March!” SALT Beyoğlu (2019)
Program: Farah Aksoy (SALT)
Editing and Translation: Başak Çaka (SALT)
Exhibition Design and Production: Emirhan Altuner (SALT)
Graphic Design: Özgür Şahin (SALT)
Communication Design: Informal Project

“Forward, March!” Google Arts & Culture Presentation (2022)
Application: Gamze Cebeci, Emirhan Altuner  ve Gül İçel (SALT)
Editing and Translation: Ezgi Yurteri (SALT)

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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