Turkish art and culture world in mood of solidarity against economic hardship
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As the recent economic hardships have started taking their toll on culture and the art world, the sector tries to steer away from pessimism according to an observer. “They were initially demoralized, but the current reflex is to resist difficulties,” said Filiz Aygündüz, the editor-in-chief of Milliyet Art magazine, which is one of Turkey’s longest-running art magazines.
Tell us how you think art and culture will be affected by the current economic hardships.
While the effects have begun to be felt in the course of these past three months, we are still entering a full-fledged art and culture season. While each sector will feel the negative effects at a different degree, right now, I cannot detect a major over all contraction. I think Turkish people are aware of the healing capacity of art.
I have spoken to a lot of people from the sector and while there are complaints about current difficulties, the general tendency is to stay away from pessimism. There was an initial loss of morale and anxiety on how to go on. But I see they have decided to resist and survive. If everyone continues to do their work properly, I believe we can overcome these dire straits in solidarity among all parties, including art lovers. While there are complaints, there are also efforts to find solutions. So, the current reflex is one of resisting difficulties.
What do you think will be the immediate effect of the sharp rise of foreign currency?
We are used to seeing foreign popular stars coming and performing in Turkey. There will be difficulties in terms of organizing these concerts. But then, the positive consequence is that local singers will have more opportunities to perform. We are already seeing an increase in the concerts of Turkish singers.
Bringing exhibitions from abroad might prove difficult, but there are still some very exciting exhibitions waiting for us this season.
In periods of economic difficulties, people tend to save from art and culture, will that be the case in Turkey too?
Certainly, but this is not specific to Turkey or to the current situation. People will probably reduce their budget for art and cultural activities but I am not expecting a sharp cut.
Can you give us an overall picture of the art and culture world? What does the new season look like?
Let me start with theaters. A decade ago, private theaters used to address a rather specific bourgeois crowd. Plays were taking place in chic theater halls attended by a nicely dressed audience. The Turkish theater has registered a very big transformation. A new generation of spectators came and parallel to that there is a new theater culture. There are several very successful theater groups, which actually have a hard time finding a place to perform. But you now have a chance to watch an impressive play in an apartment on the second floor of a building together with 20 people.
This is a generation that is making a lot of sacrifices to cover their costs. Theaters that are subsidized (like the theaters of municipalities) have increased the number of their plays from 46 to 63 this year. They are also aiming to reach one million spectators this year. Last year, this number was 600,000. State theaters, on the other hand, have attracted slightly over a million spectators this year for 143 different plays.
According to data for the first six weeks of 2018, there has been a 30 percent increase in the number of people who have gone to movie theaters compared to the same period last year. Seventy-seven percent of these 15.5 million people chose to watch Turkish movies, which is a record. People mostly watched Turkish comedies. It seems that people choose things that can make them laugh to bare the difficulties of life. “Sinematek” in the Kadıköy municipality (on the Anatolian side), which was closed by the 1980 military coup, will reopen this year and that will give us the opportunity to see many movies that have become classics.
What is the situation with music?
Our habits have changed as more people use online platforms. So, there has been a decline in the sale of CDs by 41 percent. In contrast, there is a 13 point increase in the sale of long plays, which has surprised many. Pop is still in very high demand, while interest is still high for arabesque music. We have a very talented generation of women musicians, followed by young crowds with great interest.
Earlier, you mentioned how local singers found more room to perform as a consequence of the increase in foreign currency, are there other areas where we are likely to see some unintended consequences?
With plastic arts, the first reaction was to turn to the Turkish Lira. But this has annoyed artists, because when you compare the value in foreign currency for their work abroad with the value of the lira inside the country, there is a loss of value. It is not enough to turn the price of the work to liras. When you directly convert from foreign currency to liras, the price becomes very high; you then have to make some reductions. But somehow, the artists, the galleries and the buyers have shown solidarity; they have resorted to reciprocal arrangements. The galleries that participated in Contemporary Istanbul (which took place last month), said sales were pretty good this year as well. That was something I was not expecting.
CI is now followed by the Istanbul Biennial, which together with the Venice Biennial is referred to as one of the most important art events of the year globally.
How about literature? As paper is imported from abroad, this must have had its toll on the sector.
They are indeed going through some difficult times. I can observe a drop in the number of books. Usually, we used to receive 50 to 60 books on average. Now, this has dropped to 10-15. Some have stopped, some have suspended the purchase of copyrights from abroad.
Would that work in favor of local authors?
I do not think so. The “most read” writers will continue to be read as usual. But the rise in the price of paper will reflect itself on the price of the books, so readers might opt to buy less books. There is already a drop in book sales.
Some printing houses said they have stopped receiving drafts for new books.
According to the 2017 report by the Turkish Publishers Association, the number of books per person dropped from 8.4 to 7.7. But according to data from Eurostat, Turks read an average of seven minutes and that is higher than France and Italy, which is quiet surprising. Foreign classics and dystopic novels topped the lists of Turkish readers. There is tremendous interest in Stefan Zweig.
The Diyarbakır Book Fair has opened its doors last month after a four-year interval. The Istanbul Book Fair, which hosted 800 publishing houses last year, will take place next month and the number attending has risen to 820.
Despite the rise in the price of paper, the printing world is resisting and spending a tremendous effort to remain productive.
Who is Filiz Aygündüz?
Filiz Aygündüz was born in Istanbul in 1971. She graduated from the mathematics department of Istanbul’s Mimar Sinan University. Following her graduation, she began her career in journalism at a culture and art magazine called “Topaz.”
She then worked at different magazines together with Duygu Asena, one of Turkey’s most prominent female journalists.
She started working for the magazine “Milliyet Sanat” (Art), published by daily Milliyet in 1999. She is currently the editor-in-chief of Milliyet Sanat, a position she was appointed to in 2008. On its 46th year, Milliyet Sanat is one of the longest-running magazines in Turkey.
Aygündüz is also responsible of the paper’s daily art page, weekend editions and monthly book edition.
She is the author of two novels.