Syndrome of the Present Seminar #2

Day One 05.07.2018 | Izmir, Turkey

The seminar began with an introductory talk by Erden Kosova at the ruins of the Kadifekale fort, providing an apt vantage point to examine Izmir’s urban topography. From this view, it is possible to see how the areas located closer to the Aegean Sea, an area where refugees risk fatality by attempting to cross into EU territory, has received ample financial investment so as to greaten its touristic and commercial appeal; in contrast, the outskirts of the city — where the majority of the 150,000 refugees living in Izmir reside — were visibly dilapidated. This area has a long-standing history of being inhabited by newcomers to the city.


Following the introduction, the participants received a presentation at the Izmir branch of WAHA (Women’s and Health Alliance), located in the nearby Basmane neighbourhood. The branch was initiated and continues to be run by former Syrian refugees living in Izmir. The presentation of Mohammed Saleh, the director of the association, included discussions on the vocabulary used by juridical systems to address the refugee crisis and how such vocabulary and its implication of legal status (or lack thereof) both influences the local societal attitudes towards the refugee presence and further poses a hindrance to the refugee’s access to welfare infrastructure.

Visit at WAHA, Izmir

During the afternoon the seminar was based at the French Cultural Centre, where a series of presentations by Dr. Mehmet Penpecioğlu (Political-Economic Background of Izmir’s Urban Development and Planning Within the Historical Context), artist Metehan Özcan (Living and producing in Izmir: Authors of the City), human rights lawyer Ayşegül Karpuz (representing the refugee advocacy group Halkların Köprüsü — The Bridging Peoples Association), and historian Erkan Serçe further unfolded the themes of urban topology, the role of neoliberalism in city planning, and how social memory functions as an active component in the inscription and narration of history.


The first day concluded with a tour of the Culture Park led by Erkan Serçe, whose presentation provided a historical survey of the Culture Park’s development, its original inspiration from the Soviet model for public spaces and it’s contemporary significance.

Day Two 06.07.2018 | Izmir, Turkey

The second day commenced with an excursion to the archaeological excavation site located in the Konak region of the city. The site includes the house believed to be the birthplace of Sabbatai Zevi, now extensively remodelled. Although still in development, the house shall eventually serve as a public feature in the archaeological site, a project that is supported by the local municipality. Explicit mention of the house’s connection to Zevi is absent from the site’s promotional narrative — one could speculate that this absence, despite the site being commonly mythologised as pertaining to Zevi (even to the extent that Google Maps refers to the site as ‘Sabatay Sevi evi’ — literally, Sabbatai Zevi’s House), serves to avoid formally acknowledging the site as possessing religious/ideological significance.


Adjacent to the house is the former Jewish district, a dense web of largely concealed synagogues within the labyrinth that is the Kemeralti bazaar. Led by Nesim Bencoya, the participants retraced the path of Zevi in a visit to the former Portuguese Synagogue. The synagogue was a frequent backdrop to many of the events associated Zevi, including the proclamation of his messiahship. The synagogue is now owned by a collective of entrepreneurs, where it is typically used to present talks on subjects such as trade and economic ventures

The participants also visited the Señora Synagogue. Built in the 17th Century, local tradition purports that the synagogue was established by Donna Garcia, the daughter of a prominent merchant of Sephardic origin — a remarkable (although highly unlikely) tale, in light of the absence of women within the context of religious institutional histories.


After the excursion, further presentations were given by the participants. Raşel Meseri and Aylin Kuryel presented their recent publication Being Jewish in Turkey: A Dictionary of Experiences — a book that deconstructs common vocabulary and linguistic expressions amongst the Jewish-Turkish community, thereby excavating the political and social etymology of such language. Artist Artur Żmijewski discussed several of his films, commenting on the negotiation of political ideologies both within his work and around its production.

Day Three 07.07.2018 | Istanbul, Turkey

The Bülbülderesi Cemetery sprawls across a steeply sloped hillside, creating multiple vertically stacked platforms of closely allotted stone tombs, upon and between which greenery and silence flourish amidst the urban Üsküdar neighbourhood on the Asian coast of the city. An early morning excursion in the cemetery was accompanied by artist C.M. Kösemen, author of the award-winning book Osman Hasan and the Tombstone Photographs of the Dönmes — an extensive research into deciphering the motifs distinctive of Dönme tombs, of which many can be located in the cemetery. Despite the ostracisation of the Dönme, rejected by both Jewish and Muslim communities, the tombs of Dönme families are not restricted to a specific area within the cemetery but are instead dispersed throughout — often characterised by lavish motifs, in sharp contrast to the sobriety of surrounding tombs. Further inspection, as C.M. Kösemen described, reveals an array of distinct semiotics — including hand-tinted photograph portraits, elaborate stone carvings, and modernist fonts.


The afternoon session took place in Cezayir; owned by the currently imprisoned Osman Kavala, co-founder of DEPO (one of Syndrome of the Present’s partner institutions), Cezayir holds a tradition for intensively hosting NGO meetings. During the afternoon, presentations by Asena Günal, director of art space DEPO (one of the partner institutions of our project), and artist Zeyno Pekünlü generated discussion on how artists and institutions can (collaboratively) deploy strategies to both actively resist and combat social and political conditions, particularly (but not limited to) those conditions that heavily moderate the production and presentation of art. Further, Zeyno Pekünlü spoke of how techniques of archiving and collecting existing media — both digital and physical — provide a perspective through which to reflect on tropes of human behaviour, drawing sensitive focus to the evocation and allowance of vulnerability, a typically concealed sentiment yet often entrenched with socially significant charge.

Day Four 08.07.2018 | Istanbul, Turkey

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Following a morning visit to the Museum of Turkish Jews, the seminar held in SALT (another partner institution) concluded with a presentation by Gülsün Karamustafa, one of Turkey’s most outspoken and celebrated artists, whose career spans forty-years. Karamustafa presented a number of her video works and spoke of how the works enunciate an intimate proximity between a personal/collective memory of Istanbul and its shifting political geographies, thereby meditating on subjects such as migration, poverty, government regimes and public protest.


Pawel Maciejko

Pawel Maciejko is a Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Professor of Classical Jewish Religion, Thought, and Culture at Johns Hopkins University. He received a doctorate in Modern History from University of Oxford (2004). Upon completion of a Whiting post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Chicago the following year, Maciejko moved to Israel and joined the faculty of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he taught until 2016, moving to Johns Hopkins University.

His book The Mixed Multitude: Jacob Frank and the Frankist Movement 1755-1816 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011) was awarded the Salo Baron Prize by the American Academy of Jewish Research, and Jordan Schnitzer Book Award by the Association of Jewish Studies. His most recent publication is Sabbatian Heresy: Writings on Mysticism, Messianism, and the Origins of Jewish Modernity (Boston: Brandeis University Press, 2017).

Wendelien van Oldenborgh

Wendelien van Oldenborgh develops works, whereby the cinematic format is used as a methodology for production and as the basic language for various forms of presentation. She often uses the format of a public film shoot, collaborating with participants in different scenarios, to co-produce a script and orientate the work towards its final outcome. With these works, which look at the structures that form and hinder us, she participated in various large biennials, and in smaller dedicated shows. Recent presentations include: Cinema Olanda, solo at the Dutch Pavilion in the 57th Venice Biennial 2017; As for the future (2017) solo At DAAD gallery, Berlin; Power and Other Things, BOZAR Brussels 2017. A monographic publication, Amateur, was published by Sternberg Press, Berlin; If I Can’t Dance, Amsterdam and The Showroom, London in 2016.

Yolande Jansen

Yolande Jansen is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam and Special Professor of Humanism in Relation to Religion and Secularity for the Socrates Foundation at the VU University Amsterdam. She is the author of Secularism, Assimilation and the Crisis of Multiculturalism; French modernist legacies (2014) and edited The Irregularization of Migration in Europe; Detention, Deportation, Drowning(2015), together with Joost de Bloois and Robin Celikates. She is the project-leader of an NWO-project about ‘Critique of Religion; Framing Jews and Muslims in public debate and political theory’. She recently contributed to the Oxford Handbook of Secularism with an article analysing the rise of the secularism/religion dyad in international public affairs and philosophy.

Amir Engel

Amir Engel is a lecturer at the German department. He studied philosophy, literature and culture-studies at the Hebrew University and completed his PhD. at the German studies department at Stanford University. After that he taught and conducted research at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main. His main topics of interest include German Romanticism and German postwar literature and culture, theories of myth, literature and philosophy and history of culture. He is also interested in intercultural transference, Jewish German culture, and German 20th century intellectual history. He has written a book about Gershom Scholem and has published articles about Hannah Arendt, Paul Celan, Martin Buber, Jacob Taubes, Salomon Maimon and others.

Marc David Baer

Marc David Baer is a historian who specialises in the connected histories of Jews and Muslims in Turkey, Greece, and Germany, in the past and present. Representative publications include the first academic study of the followers of Shabbatai Tzevi, The Dönme: Jewish Converts, Muslim Revolutionaries, and Secular Turks (Stanford, 2010, Turkish translation, Selânikli Dönmeler: Musevilikten Dönenler, Müslüman Devrimciler, ve Laik Türkler, Doğan, 2011; Greek translation forthcoming), Turk and Jew in Berlin: The First Turkish Migration to Berlin and the Shoah (Comparative Studies in Society & History) and Mistaken for Jews: Turkish PhD Students in Nazi Germany (German Studies Review). He is Professor of International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Marjolijn Dijkman

Marjolijn Dijkman, *1978, living and working in Brussels, Belgium

Marjolijn Dijkman’s practice is concerned with human systems and structures that aim to intervene, control, and ultimately master our surrounding environment. Interested in integrating concepts and methodologies specific to a broad range of disciplines, Dijkman’s work has engaged with topics including urbanism, ecology, anthropology, museology and futurology. The artist’s expansive approach attests to her ability to see the linkages between seemingly unrelated subjects. This view is articulated in the ethos behind Enough Room for Space (ERforS), an independent arts initiative founded by Dijkman and artist Maarten Vanden Eynde in 2005, which focuses on generating experimental research projects and exhibitions.

She had solo exhibitions at institutions like: West Space (Melbourne, AU); ICA (London, UK) ; IKON Gallery (Birmingham, UK); Berkely Art Museum (Berkely, US), West Space (Melbourne, AU). And participated in group exhibitions like: 21st Bienniale of Sydney (2018); 11th Shanghai Bienniale (2016), Mercosul Biennial (2009) and the 8th Sharjah Biennial (2007).

Website | Marjolijn Dijkman

Gülsün Karamustafa

One of Turkey’s most outspoken and celebrated artists, Gülsün Karamustafa has a forty-year oeuvre distinguished by installations, paintings, sculptures, and videos that examine the complexities of gender, globalization, and migration. In the late 1980s, Karamustafa began making sculptures and installations using found objects, including Create Your Own Story with the Given Material (1997), which features child-sized white cotton shirts that have been sewn shut with black cord in a meditation on the plight of immigrant children in Turkey. She has had solo exhibitions at the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva (1999); Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany; Museum Villa Stuck, Munich; and Dunkers Kulturhus, Helsingborg, Sweden.

Erkan Serçe

Erkan Serçe was born in Izmir in 1964. After graduating from the history department of Aegean University (1986) he completed his post-graduate studies in Dokuz Eylül University (1996). Since 1997 he has been teaching in the History Education department of the same university. Serçe has published many books on the urban history of the city of Izmir, municipalities in the Ottoman and Republican era, dynamics of urbanisation and quotidian life.

Metehan Özcan

Metehan Özcan is an artist, born in Istanbul, 1975 lives in Izmir. He received BA degree in Interior Design from Bilkent University and MFA degree in Visual Communication Design from Bilgi University. He is studying at Proficiency in Art and Design Programme of Dokuz Eylül University and working as part-time lecturer at various universities. Özcan mostly focuses on design and communication of modernist design in Turkey.

He was one of the participants of the Places of Memory, a project realized for Turkish Pavilion at Venice Architecture Biennale (2014), gathering visual urban fragments of Istanbul. Later he participated at Design Chronologies Project at Istanbul Design Biennale (2016), a project which was documenting the last 200
years of design history at Turkey. Recently he coordinated an exhibition, Authors of The City, with Yıldız Çintay Art Group about Izmir’s modernist art and design references at public realm, taking place at Studio-X Istanbul.