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Black Sea museum combines Turkish crafts, contemporary art

Milliyet Sanat | 7/14/2010 12:00:00 AM | Ayşegül Oğuz

When Professor Hüsamettin Koçan decided to build a museum in his hometown in the Black Sea province of Bayburt, the idea was just a dream. But with his efforts, the dream has come true. The Baksı Museum is a giant complex that hosts artists and provides opportunities for showing works produced by the local public

The Baksı Museum, built with the efforts of Hüsamettin Koçan, is a large group of buildings that offers workshops and exhibitions in Turkey’s Black Sea province of Bayburt.

“Baksı” means “healer, helper, protector” in the Central Asia. From now on, there will be another meaning for the word as it will remind us of the Baksı Museum and Research Center of Folk Art, to open in July in Bayburt, one of the leading sites of emigration in Turkey.

Baksı, a project whose preparation has taken approximately 20 years, has undergone a major transformation, and in the final outcome is a project that has surpassed its bounds.

The brain of this project is Professor Hüsamettin Koçan, a painter who said, “I didn’t do this for my own village, I did it for the people who live in my village and everywhere.”

“I knew its geography, its human texture and its story. The story I knew best was that of its earth, which was why I knew very well what that earth wanted,” he said about the Baksı Museum he established in Bayburt, his hometown.

Built 45 kilometers from central Bayburt, on a hilltop overlooking the Çoruh Valley, the Baksı Museum brings modern art and traditional crafts under the same roof.

The museum hosts a wide collection of folk art paintings, individual examples reflecting the local craftwork and contemporary art. The Baksı Museum is a venue worth visiting with its 500,000 square meters of exhibit halls, its conference hall for hosting panel discussions and shows, its workshops aimed for the recovery of disappearing crafts where contemporary artists can create pieces and the public can benefit, its library bearing 10,000 art publications and books on folklore, and its guesthouse with capacity for 30 people.

Koçan said he did not establish the museum as part of a social responsibility project. “Social responsibility projects must be separated into a few categories. One is that institutions want to make themselves legitimate and known through social responsibility projects,” he said.

“Recently, there was a meeting in Baksı attended by mayors, governors and civil servants from Erzurum, Bayburt and Erzincan. The next day, someone approached me at the airport before my flight to Istanbul and said: ‘Professor, I was at your museum yesterday for the meeting. I didn’t have the chance to say it then, but I have been thinking, this project is art in itself; it’s an anomaly!’ We didn’t establish the museum in the context of a social responsibility project, but rather as an artists’ project – one that truly takes the community into consideration, that risks everything for this purpose, all through the help and assistance of the family it belongs to, of the artist, and of its neighbors,” said Koçan.

On its own, the Baksı puts forth great work, said Koçan.

“We can neither call this a social responsibility project, nor a museum construction. This project must have a different name. A visitor of ours was deeply affected after seeing the museum, and wrote, ‘This place is very nice, very interesting and entertaining, but this man is trying to grow grass in a flowerpot.’ That’s how hard this business is. They did not have faith in me at first. They said, “He’s just an artist, he’ll speculate like that.” As soon as I accomplished the first stage, they said, “You were serious about this.” Apparently, nobody believed in me. This project does not calculate profits. It doesn’t think it should build the museum in the city center so that more people will come to visit. It has stepped up onto a hill – it actually flows out of the mold. Leftovers from molds have always deeply interested me.”

Those who did not have faith in the beginning have now changed their minds. Koçan said he has learned about two values from this project: faith and sincerity. “If you use these notions well, and project them upon each other, you can create a synergy. From day one, the unwavering support I received was from artists, children and expatriates.”

On why Baksı wanted to act as a museum, Koçan said, “If a logic of archiving can be injected into a museum, if we can progress toward a constitution that creates its programs and exhibits through debates and discussions – we called this a museum because I believed that this could last a long time, and that in terms of its lifespan, it could indeed become virtually immortal. Otherwise, we would have faced problems in explaining the seriousness of this matter to the public. Nevertheless, our museum has this unique quality: You know the matter of the traditional and the contemporary – we lifted the boundaries separating the two; a straw mat weaved in our village and a video by Ömer Ali Kazma are exhibited in the same venue. We eliminated a hierarchy. We said we would display the face of humanity’s future creative efforts and the area of it that has been produced and downtrodden to date, all in the same place, all in an egalitarian manner.”

In a way, Baksı will hold the inventory of the past and the future. In Koçak’s words, nothing exists without the dream of a future. This includes tradition, which should also contain dreams about the future, about renewal and taking risks, about debating and asking questions. “This is a point that we need to be aware of. For example, we presume the symbols on the carpets were put there to look pretty. But in reality, the weaver places them there to indicate her pregnancy, or her clan, or her expectations. We are a community that expresses its feelings through images. What we call a verbal society reflects its silence, its words by transforming them into something else in weaving a carpet, in calligraphy. There is an outstandingly rich and deep-seated memory. Fabrics and ceramics are an example. The “ehram” (religious cloak) is entirely a byproduct of a nomadic culture. They have represented nature and rustic life in their symbols with such flair! But the pottery comes from deep inside the soil. It is a tradition that draws from all the ancient civilizations that resided on that soil in the past. Turning these two into a positive aspect of life, you see, is a diversity of utmost importance.”

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