The panorama drawn by contemporary art today –also with the heavy effect of postmodernism– can be expressed as the removal of every expression of all kinds of creation by technology and the internet to reduce them only to a surface representation and presenting this at a pace and time that we can call as a kind of a “cascade of images”. Technological improvements have created many new, original and creative fields of action and surely rendered it possible for many creative actions to become more perfect. But when looking at the social, cultural, political and economic panorama of today, one can easily see that the society of Turkey –except for the engaged, ideological masses– is not very happy about this. The most important factors underlying this unhappiness and hopelessness and constituting our social and cultural deficiency today are the following: The inability to confront the past socially and the fact that the type of artist as a “storyteller” is not sufficiently represented by the market althought one feels its absence. In this respect, Hakan Kırdar’s second solo exhibition in Istanbul entitled “Memorial Forest” deserves to be evaluated in the name of filling this deficiency and being a glimmer of hope.

Starting from the Armenian neighbourhood known as Haynots and determining the focal points of his exhibition as Kültürpark, which was built on the area destroyed during the Fire of İzmir in 1922, and the İzmir International Fair, the social, historical and economic importance of which is pretty clear in the history of Turkey, Hakan Kırdar constructs his story on this axis in “Memorial Forest”. The importance of the intersection of the İzmir International Fair, which dates back to February 17, 1923, and Kültürpark lies exactly here. The construction of Kültürpark on the area, where the burned neighbourhoods were located, started under the supervision of the then mayor Dr. Behçet Uz on January 1, 1936, and with the design of the architects commissioned by Bulganin, the then mayor of Moscow, and was accomplished within the same year. Thus, for example, Hakan Kırdar’s titling “HAYNOTS” and the plates Cumhuriyet (Republic), Montrö (Montreaux), 26 Ağustos (August 26), 9 Eylül (September 9) and Lozan (Lausanne) created with ashes and characterizing the 5 different entrance doors of the fair become meaningful; certainly by adding the construction elements realized by including the use of ash and coal.

With Hakan Kırdar’s works, the audience sets out on a kind of a journey of “memory spaces” in the particular case of Kültürpark. One of the examples for this is the once Ministry of Education Cultural Pavilion, designed in 1938 by the German architect Bruno Taut, one of the important figures of modern architecture, and functioning today subject to the İzmir Museum of History and Art. Even only reflecting on the transformations, the story, the aim of construction and the current function of this space can be seen as one of the indications that the exhibition has reached its aim. On the other hand, with the presentation of the map and flag made out of coal showing the areas and neighbourhoods where the fire has occurred, one can read the story of how Kültürpark area has transformed from an important part of the city as a non-Muslim residential area to an abandoned neighbourhood and then to a Park and Fair area where the Turkish national identity and economic and cultural actions were symbolized; by the way, certainly with other presentations, which might provide us clues, ranging from animal species facing extinction to the carpet arrangement visualizing the fire and the problematics in the construction of Turkish identity.

Hakan Kırdar is one of the resistant names whose visual production in each phase is not shaped according to the wind just as he creates codes outside the pop taste of the masses and the insufficient presentations of the contemporary art system based on it. In this exhibition one can see an important section of a wide history where the Second World War via Kültürpark, the succeeding Cold War Era, and the liberalization in the economy especially after 1980 can be read. This memory –and thus history– is both an individual and a collective memory. We are facing a structure constituted by verbal narratives, writings, ideologies and symbols shared collectively throughout generations. So we are vis-à-vis a world of symbols in which one can read political changes and transformations, the language and the force of power and the ideological frameworks drawn for the people of Turkey. It will be our part as the audience as well as a priviliged pleasure to decode these symbols, a section of which is presented by Hakan Kırdar, and uncover the narrative. Changing demographic structures, a shared urban culture and many incidents and phenomena from the Great Fire of İzmir to pogroms, from the Incidents of September 6-7 to unidentified murders and traumas experienced by the people of Turkey might contribute to both a memory refreshment and confrontation and to reaching a “katharsis” from this point of view. In my opinion, this is one of the most important successes of the exhibition.

Fırat Arapoğlu



Hakan Kırdar focuses on the history of Izmir where he has been living for a long time, and creates visual images rich in connotations. These images are central in his quest for various forms using different techniques; and especially in his site-specific installations he deals with concepts of history, identity, belonging and memory in “multi-layered“ frameworks. One of the themes Kırdar has long since been working on is the “privileged status“ of Izmir as a multi-cultural, multi-lingual East Mediterranean port city at the beginning of the 19th century. Even though its traces can rarely be seen today, Izmir truly embodied a cosmopolite culture where Turkish, French, Jewish, Greek, Armenian communities lived together for centuries. Unfortunately, many misfortunes and course of history experienced during the 20th century when the idea of “nation-state“ came forth, changed both this cosmopolite culture and how the inhabitants of this city viewed themselves, their Through “remembrances” Hakan Kırdar’s project puts under microscope the course of time, from the 1915 Armenian Case that hit the first blow on the cosmopolite nature of Izmir to the great fire of 1922 that dislocated the city. In his ground sculpture made of oak ashes, Kırdar chooses as his starting point the “Armenian Orphan Rug“ which was given in 1925 to then American President Calvin Coolidge, and embarks on an “archeology“ of Memory. Woven by Armenian children who were able to survive the great displacement from the town of Ghazir near Beirut, the rug was presented to the American president as a gift in kind for the humanistic help provided by the American people to displaced Armenian children. Depicting the Garden of Eden, this rug is not an inspiration based only on forms for Kırdar’s sculpture created from ash. In his work, construed on “transience”, the artist has created various patterns that refer the “carpet culture” that has a very strong history in Mideastern cultures. In Kırdar’s ash carpet, details that pertain to modern times, rather than traditional forms, come forward. Instead of ordinary decorative elements the work puts forth children’s toys and various plant forms; and activates a meticulously weaved “chain of remembrance”, very effectively leaving the viewers pondering about with “the past” and “historical realities”.

The ash that Kırdar uses is an extraordinary material that the artist collected from the bakery ovens that baked Izmir’s famous “gevrek” (a salty type of pretzel). The oak tree ashes are an exceptional metaphor for the desert sand which refers to a different meaning in Armenian Diaspora culture. Most of those who survived the Great Displacement, were people who buried themselves in the sand to hide during their long walk through the desert lands. Just as ash refers to desert sand, children’s toys seen on the left side of Kırdar’s work here, are images created about the experiences of a generation who had to leave their homeland with no chance to look back. This sensitive work which embarks on an “archeology of Memory” via details, supported by a plethora of forms and meanings that only careful eyes can see, has created quite an astonishing visual beneath the monotony of the ash color.

Kırdar’s project not only focuses on “depiction of pain”; he also takes on the difficult task of visualizing the effects of the past on the present by tending the traces left from the multicultural past of İzmir’s urban memory which has unfortunately been erased. The fact that he undertakes it without personifying, narrating or othering is one of Hakan Kırdar’s virtues that should be emphasized.

Necmi Sönmez, April 2015, Venice



Symbols are, briefly, the conventional description of a concept and symbols are used frequently in politics, culture. Symbols usually take the place of politics and culture in societies that have not matured, allowing for a conformist structure. So, like is the case in Turkey, liberal and statist principles within the republic regime, the symbols of east-west (it can be named as westernism as well) can survive simultaneously. However, orientations that live together yet disregard differences as riches, trying to destroy them with a bolt from the blue approaches, cannot communicate with the whole of society. In a geography where such an approach exists, democracy cannot be seen as life philosophy; that meaning will be omitted and for the sake of pragmatic achievements; if one may say so, differences and problems will be swept under the rug. A faulty assembly of such an import product is being witnessed from city to culture, life to image.

Crossing axis, is a presentation where Hakan Kırdar and Yeni Anıt, whose works display similar structural characteristics, go for a sort of a deconstruction by separating the symbols and the things the symbols point out to. To explain this: Whether in Islamic or secular thinking, in our day, the point the unmediated simple perception of symbols take a society to is very clear: Nothing is as simple as it seems! Indeed, in each emphasis, the rhetoric of “democracy” is verbalized, but every time it is tried and applied “despite the public”. These Jacobean reflexes of course will never reach its aim, but it is important to decipher the signs it shows. Democracy must be saved from becoming a toy in the hands of the oppressive regimes of the bureaucratic elites on the one hand, and “pluralistic” dictators based on absolute majority on the other. In other word, its “dignity” must be returned. This case; where a sort of discursive “ghosts” are flying over us, cannot be evaded each time, as the “lesser evil”, for each case has a worse case.

As both artists point out, the clear reading of concepts always constitutes a problem. As seen in the Works of Yeni Anıt, symbols suffer from change in meaning over time, and the beliefs in these symbols lead to paying certain prices. Does not the existence of people who spend a large part of their lives in jails for not agreeing on an idea, show this? That is why it is important to discover what the symbols actually hide. To give an example; we can see that while a conservative political movement formulize the freedom of all the fractions of society on the slogan of “strong state” and “religious beliefs”, it indeed aims for the strengthening of an economically narrow society. We can see that facts like privatizations, state tenders, incentives on foreign investments are actually reaching out to misdirection via symbols. This is discovering an allegory where the symbols of pressures and violence are used as a reference to monumental architecture. Dignity may be seen as a concept that comes into play here; but not from a societal angle, from an “individual” angle.

We see Hakan Kırdar’s interpretation of the concept of “oligarchy” at the same time, like Yeni Anıt. However, either of an Islamic or secular reference, “guardianship” and “use of symbols” are like never ending loops. Each government may use the same methods for different purposes. Thus, monuments, symbols and memories can pop up constantly and in different forms. If the governments are constructed in a structure that legalizes the use of symbols, they can thus continue the economic opportunities. Economic decisions are the fundamental motivation in the hand- holding walk of “liberalization” and “conservatism”; or shall we put it like this? On the one hand, “expansion” and on the other the “enrichment” of a certain group.

In some works, Ankara as a “city” construction is seen as represented with its topographical characteristics and monuments. Hakan Kırdar’s photo in front of the Ankara Museum of Ethnography showing a modern republic family will be able to meet with the image of Anıtkabir in Yeni Anıt’s work. While these representations are gathered under the “monument” theme, it expands to an area covering the whole geography and reaching to Istanbul, Izmir, Ankara, Çanakkale and many cities and casting out minorities and others topically.

So if we are to sum it up, it is possible to say Hakan Kırdar and Yeni Anıt is dealing with subjects that are bounced in three main axis. The first one is: city and urban concepts, their historicity and urbanization. The second one: the change in population in Turkey from the past to the present and the political and cultural tendencies that have changed within this axis. And thirdly; similar to the first one, a detailed analysis of “architectural” approaches in urbanization. While studying the exhibit, it will beneficial for the viewer to observe from these three axis.

This exhibit must be seen as the expression of “differences”. Both artist are expressing the differences and pointing to a common ground that will be obtained by conflicting. And, in cases that point to the opposite, they are relaying how a “homogenous” structure will find representation. Doesn’t the fact that the political statism’s widespread nature of “expansionism” and the way it uses symbols show us not just the political, but interventions that reach to cultural and daily lives? Perhaps this was the only way to display that those applauding a singular governing are actually applauding their own nonbeing. Contrary to homogeneity – this is also constantly called “stability”- social clash of ideas may be resolved without creating state of emergencies and this clash may lead to “democracy”. Thus, this may deliver the need of a new “citizen” concept. It seems mandatory that the times need a better definition suitable for its communication, roaming and self-expression structures. Finally, the exhibit contains the deciphering of “symbols” of a life style guarantee that the society will be defined in pluralist codes within the democratic regime and where everyone will be expressing their opinions freely.

Fırat Arapoğlu