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Infinite Reality

April 9, 2014 | by

Reviving the art of Turkish miniatures.

goodfellas mini

Goodfellas, drawn by Murat Palta in the style of traditional Turkish miniatures.

In Turkey, people used to yawn when they heard the word miniature. “He looks just like one of those guys in miniatures” was a good way to insult someone. Generations of students have learned to ignore, or dislike, the art of miniature and the broader category of traditional Turkish arts—tezhip, the art of illumination; ebru, paper marbling; cilt, bookbinding; and hat, calligraphy. After all, uncool people practiced them—better to keep one’s distance.

Miniature paintings date to the third century A.D. They’re small paintings used in illustrated manuscripts (decorated books, basically) to depict scenes from the classics: the Iliad, the Aeneid, the Bible. Illuminated bibles—like the Syriac Bible of Paris, believed to have been produced in the Anatolian city of Siirt—helped spread the message of God. In Asia, miniatures developed into an independent art form, with techniques quite distinct from those of Western painting. As Wikipedia says, in Persian miniatures,

walls and other surfaces are shown either frontally, or as at (to modern eyes) an angle of about forty-five degrees, often giving the modern viewer the unintended impression that a building is hexagonal in plan. Buildings are often shown in complex views, mixing interior views through windows or “cutaways” with exterior views of other parts of a facade … The Ottoman artists hinted at an infinite and transcendent reality (that is Allah, according to the Sufism’s pantheistic point of view) with their paintings, resulting in stylized and abstracted depictions.

Kamāl ud-Dīn Behzād was one of the most prominent practitioners of Persian miniatures. Read More »


Divine Wisdom

January 8, 2014 | by

Hagia Sophia Schezar Flickr

Photo: Schezar, via Flickr

On May 28, 1453, the Byzantine emperor Constantine XI entered Hagia Sophia, “the church of the divine wisdom,” to pray. Constantinople was under siege, and the fate of the great basilica was unclear. The emperor prayed there before returning to the city walls, where he coordinated the defense effort against the army of Mehmed II, who would be christened conqueror by day’s end.

As the two armies struggled to outmaneuver each other, those caught inside Hagia Sophia waited anxiously, fearful of what might happen if the capital of Greek Orthodoxy fell into Muslim hands. Emperor Justinian had commissioned the church in 532 A.D.; planned by the mathematician Anthemius of Tralles and the physicist Isidore of Miletus, and built by more than ten thousand laborers, it was intended to symbolize the magnificence of Christianity and become the seat of the Orthodox patriarch. Twenty years after its completion, two major earthquakes shook Hagia Sophia and destroyed its eastern arch. After extensive renovation, it reopened in 562 A.D. to the delight of Justinian, who, three years before his death, saw his great church survive one of nature’s worst calamities.

On May 29, 1453, Mehmed II and his army entered the city, immediately marching on Hagia Sophia. In their book Strolling Through Istanbul, John Freely and Hilary Sumner-Boyd describe how Mehmed “dismounted at the door of the church and bent down to take a handful of earth, which he then sprinkled over his turban as an act of humility before God.” Read More »


It Was the Best of Titles, It Was the Worst of Titles

November 4, 2013 | by


In March, Michele Filgate wrote about Meriç Algün Ringborg’s Manhattan exhibition “The Library of Unborrowed Books” for this Web site. For that exhibition Algün Ringborg selected and exhibited titles that had never been borrowed from their respective libraries—an idea both clever and touching. Last month she opened her new, similarly bookish exhibition in Istanbul’s stylish Gallery NON, which is currently hosting its first show in a new building on a bystreet cutting through Istiklal, the city’s cultural center.

“The Apparent Author” consists of a sound installation which amplifies the voice of an author going on and on about her artistic goals, ambitions, and potentials (it feels as if she prefers speaking over the more difficult task of writing a book). Moving along, the viewer is confronted by two silent videos of the hands of the same author (in one video she ties a knot, in the other she performs a trick with a pen—both movements seem equally devoid of purpose). Then we come to what is, implicitly, the author’s workplace; we see the manuscript of a romance-thriller novel composed entirely from example sentences found in the Oxford English Dictionary, whose random and yet strictly disciplined order serves as the point of departure for the exhibition.

As an Istanbul author trying to finish a first novel in English, I was particularly fascinated by one piece: a shelf holding more than one hundred books devoted to helping authors finish their manuscripts. In fact, I immediately took out my iPhone and made a recording of the manual titles so that I could read them in more detail back home. (With the exception of Milan Kundera’s The Art of the Novel, I hadn’t read any of the books on Algün Ringborg’s shelf.) My fast-panning video is fifty-three seconds long; typing the titles of all the books in it took almost an hour. Below I present the fruits of my labors: a full list of the library’s titles, which Algün Ringborg says are all taken from actual books. I checked them on Amazon; she is right. However absurd their titles may seem, almost all those books are sold under the site’s Education & Reference department.

My feelings shifted from laughter to sadness when I tried imagining not only the readers of those books, but also the authors, themselves in desperate need of attention from the people they are meant to educate. Read More »

Take a Shot Now

August 20, 2013 | by


I have a friend who visits the Sour Times Web site three times a day. She says it’s like watching other people masturbate. “The difference is that they are masturbating on your image,” she says. Here “image” refers to the Sour Times article written about her, while “masturbate” refers to anonymous users’ attempts at describing her. She calls the resultant articles “juices.” “You can’t help but look at their juices,” she says. When asked about why she is so obsessed with other people’s juices and this Web site, she replied: “Because I fucking CARE for my reputation, Kaya. Sour Times is where your reputation is made, where your name can get destroyed. For many people out there it is the only source of information about me. Don’t you care about what people say about you? I do!”

Sour Times (in Turkish, Ekşi Sözlük) is a big deal in Turkey. A combination of Urban Dictionary (likewise “a veritable cornucopia of streetwise lingo, posted and defined by its readers”), the Meaning of Liff (it is somewhat similar to Douglas Adams and John Lloyd’s 1983 dictionary of undefined or undefinable things) and Wikipedia, Sour Times may be the most exciting Web site created by a Turkish citizen, ever. Sour Times users start articles with mesmerizing speed during the day; their creations, thousands of them, appear on the left frame of the Sour Times homepage, where they are listed in chronological order. Here are some recent examples: “The monkey who doesn’t believe in evolution.” “The nickname Ataturk would use if he was a Sour Times user.” “Girls who are good at finding torrent files on the web.” And my favorite: “Men who get their socks off as soon as they get home.” Read More »