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Çanakkale Biennial Cancels 2016 Edition

According to an announcement made today by the organizers of the Çanakkale Biennial, the fifth edition of the exhibition that was slated to open across the city of Çanakkale, Turkey, on September 24 has been canceled. As of July, the biennial had seemed determined to carry on despite the country-wide instability following a failed military coup, but a hostile climate toward artists and journalists has forced the biennial organizers to make this decision. Dozens of papers, TV channels, and magazines were closed immediately after the coup, and many artists and journalists have been arrested since.

The biennial’s program planned to include more than forty artists showing new works addressing the theme of migration, according to the statement released by the biennial organizers, which noted: “Exactly one year after Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body was washed up on our shores, we would like to dedicate the unrealized fifth Çanakkale Biennial and the efforts of everyone involved to all the people who have been expelled from their homelands.”

The director of the biennial, Beral Madra, recently released a statement regarding the exhibition’s cancelation:

MY STATEMENT AFTER THE CANCELLATION OF FIFTH ÇANAKKALE BIENNALE

As a citizen of Turkey, born in 1942, I regret to say that I have not experienced “democracy” in its possible form. July 15, 2016 is the fourth time that I experienced a military coup, one that will determine the future of today’s young generation.

Secularism within the modernist paradigm established by Atatürk and all the attempts of having an updated constitution throughout ninety years has somehow failed, and human rights, along with freedom of press and expression, are now severely damaged.

We are witnessing a strong polarization between secular and religious people, and racism is threatening a convivial coexistence between ethnic identities and minorities. Behind this multi-polarization I can see the frightening inequality of income and opportunities. Simply explained, thirty million people in Turkey are under or at the level of poverty! On the other hand, a consumption system is forcing these people to consume, and the spectacle system is injecting non-satisfiable false dreams. AKP has promised to fulfill the needs and dreams of the conservative rural and urban middle classes by introducing Islam as the background for their promised and potential welfare.

For the freedom of expression and opposition, the most effective cultural production in Turkey is the two-hundred-year-old modernist, postmodernist, and relational aesthetic production by excellent sociopolitical, critical, and dissident artists. Their internationally recognized works have accumulated a significant heritage of contemporary art that cannot disappear in one day. This heritage is that not only represents the state of affairs of these fifty years of struggle for EU democracy standards, but it also became a model for the South Caucasus, the Middle East, and the East Mediterranean in regards to contemporary art production and networking. I hope that all this energy and effort will be sustainable, no doubt with the solidarity of EU friends and institutions.

However, at present we have to be very alert about the limitations of all kinds of human rights—not only freedom of artistic expression. Journalists, academics, and state-employed theater actors and actresses—obviously without any reasonable cause—are now targets of the government. One issue should be considered: If it is not exhibited in public space, contemporary art works, even if they are dissident, should not be considered a threat to the ruling ideology. That means contemporary art production in Turkey is supposed to be reaching only the elites, even if the artists intend to reach a larger population. On the other hand there are many cases of censorship which are listed on the website www.siyahbant.org.

Currently we might have a stagnant and less active period in front of us. Looking back to these fifty years, I can say that artists and curators have had strong experience in creating new strategies and methods to bypass the possible threats coming from conservative and oppressive circles. Even if the private sector’s investments in contemporary art (such as the private museums in Istanbul, or the İstanbul, Sinopale, Çanakkale, and Mardin Biennials) are a must for the neocapitalist image of Turkey and cannot be ignored by the ruling politicians and economy, there is no guaranteed ground for the trouble-free production of contemporary art or other creative activities.

Thus we have experienced a sudden attack to the realization of the fifth Çanakkale Biennial.

The Çanakkale Biennal (www.canakkalebienali.com) is the outcome of the creative and positive energy of the city and its inhabitants. The civil NGO CABININ is determined to stay in global mainstream contemporary art by improving the content and aesthetics of the biennial. The biennial is mainly funded by the municipality and local NGOs, as well as all international culture institutions (countries of invited artists) that are active in Turkey.

To our regret, on September 4, the ruling party AKP Çanakkale members released a letter addressing the Mayor of Çanakkale, who represents the opposition party CHP. Due to political competition, they asked him how he is allowing Beral Madra to be the curator of the biennial, given the fact that she has, through her Twitter messages, criticized CHP party’s leader (I did); and who is, according to Twitter, a supporter of the recent military coup (no, I am not), and a supporter of the pro-Kurdish HDP (yes, I am). They challenged the mayor to fire me and announce me as persona non grata in the city.

These accusations and defamations are fabricated towards their goal.

The intention of this dishonorable attitude is to have the upper hand in promoting the historical/nationalist cultural image of the city, as this image is planned to serve the conservative ideology of the ruling party and not the secular/democratic image of the opposition party. Apparently the biennial for them is the most fertile ground for freedom of expression and democratic processes.

The declaration of CABININ, the organizer of the biennial, is published in www.canakkalebienali.com.

We will not be able to realize this biennial, but we will continue our quest of establishing a secure ground for contemporary art and culture production. Artists and art experts can find many ways and strategies to come out of this obscurity.
Thanks to all the artists and sponsors who have agreed to participate. I hope that our EU colleagues will strengthen their collaboration and solidarity so that our achievements will continue.

BERAL MADRA
www.beralmadra.net

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