The 2nd Mardin Biennial, curated by Paolo Colombo (who was also one of the curators of the 6th Istanbul Biennial and has been the art consultant to Istanbul Modern) and Lora Sarıaslan, is being held in Mardin between September 21 and October 21.
The Biennial took off with an opening ceremony on September 21, with the participation of the curators, some of the artists, journalists, the governor of Mardin, and other esteemed guests. The opening was held at the main Biennial location, Tokmakçılar Konağı, one of the largest mansions in Mardin dating back to the 16th century. Other Biennial locations are spread around the çarşı (bazaar), and range from shops, kıraathanes (traditional coffee shops), barber shops, and a hotel.
The title of this year’s Biennial is Double Take/İkinciBakış, which aims to invite viewers to take a second look at the artworks as well as at the location in which they are being showcased. Other questions that the Biennial hopes to bring up are: “What is art?” “Is what is being showcased art?” “Should art be extraordinary or intertwined with daily life?”
The Biennial locations, especially Tokmakçılar Konağı, are such grand spaces, some in terms of architecture and history some in terms of the culture and traditions they represent, that the artworks, as curator Sarıaslan put it, can’t really compete with them. As such, the aim was to choose works with a very specific nuance and incorporate them into their showcase space. The works within the mansion are mostly shown in display cases, and the organization is divided in such a way that the works are parallel to the specific room in which they are being shown. For example, local artist SeyitBattal Kurt’s video Midilli which features a pony, is in a former barn.
When asked how the artists were chosen, Sarıaslan said that the locations and the spaces called out for certain artists and even specific works; so bringing together 30 artists for the Biennial was a very natural process. Their names are as follows: Fatih Akın, Fikret Atay, Sami Baydar, Manfredi Beninati, Eli Cortiñas, Latifa Echakch, Edy Ferguson, Francesca Gabbiani, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Mona Hatoum, Hakan Irmak and Nurullah Görhan, Seyit Battal Kurt, Rä di Martino, Marisa Maza, Sebastian Moldovan, The Museum of Everything, Mike Nelson, Eleni Panouklia, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Anri Sala, Hrair Sarkissian, Anne Sauser-Hall, Hiraki Sawa, Shahzia Sikander, Murat Şahinler, Nasra Şimmes, Rosemarie Trockel, Pae White, and Wood and Harrison.
Most works focus on the ideas of memory, domesticity, family, and roots, most of which connect to the space and the city. Some of the highlights of the Biennial are Fatih Akın’s film Cennetteki Çöplük (2012), Nasra Şimnes’s untitled works of traditional fabrics, Pae White’s fabrics, Mona Hatoum’s wool carpet, and Francesca Gabbiani’s works of collages and cut-outs. Akın’s film, which is being showcased on a hilltop at an open-air theatre, is about the struggle of the Çamburlu residents of the Black Sea Region after a landfill is placed in close proximity to their houses, causing several health and environmental issues. The film is also being shown in Istanbul during Filmekimi.
Nasra Şimnes, a local woman belonging to the Assyrian ethnic group, showcases traditional painting on fabric at Yeni Otel, a low-budget hotel in the heart of the bazaar. Her work is very significant as she is presumed to be the last person with the skills to create such works. Similar fabric works dating back centuries can be seen at the Mor Gabriel Monastery.
Pae White’s colorful fabrics, all of which were produced in the United States, were being sold at a shop within the bazaar for the same price as any other fabric in the store so that locals as well could buy them. One of the fabrics were used as a sofa cover and displayed at the Yeni Otel right next to Şimnes’s works.
Anri Sala’s video, which was being showcased within the mansion the former kitchen, is titled börek and shows the artist’s grandmother making this traditional pastry product. Although for many Turks this may seem like an ordinary sight, the video carries with it the importance ofprotecting traditions. Sala decided to record his grandmother preparing this dish because, as an Albanian immigrant living in Paris, such traditional cooking methods were not practiced in his household and he didn’t want to lose this custom.
The 2nd Mardin Biennial serves as a great effort to intertwine contemporary art with a very traditional setting, asking the viewers to question not just art but also the purpose and meaning of art in such a complex and historical region.
Where to Eat
Mardin is famous for its kebab, as the meat is especially succulent in the area. Make sure to order a glass of ayran (yogurt-based drink), often served in traditional glasses.
Yusuf Usta, 1.Cadde Şehidiye Camii Yanı Merkez, Mardin; P: (0482) 212 79 85
Kebapçı Rido, 1.Cadde No:203 Merkez, Mardin; P: (0482) 212 98 15
Cercis Murat Konağı, 1. Cadde No: 517 Merkez, Mardin; P: (0482) 213 68 41
Where to Stay
Several mansions have been restored and turned into hotels in Mardin. Two of the well-known ones are as follows:
Kasr-ı Nehroz Hotel, IşıklarMahallesi 219 SokakNo: 14, Midyat, Mardin; P: (0482) 464 25 25
Antik Tatlıdede Konağı, UlucamiMah. 104 Sokak No: 27, Mardin; P: (0482) 213 27 20
What to Watch Out For
Due to ongoing construction on the streets, it’s very dusty and difficult to walk. We highly recommend you take proper walking shoes with you.
What to Buy
Soap: You’ll find a wide variety of natural soaps, from bay tree and thyme to almond and honey. The Mardin specialty is bıttım, made from the turpentine tree.
Silver:If you’re interested in silver ethnic jewelry, you’ll find a great range here.
Wine: The region is famous for Assyrian wine, which you can buy from Mezopotomya Süryani Şarap Evi on 1. Cadde right across from Cercis Murat Konağı.
What to See
Ulu Camii: This is one of the largest mosques in Mardin, dating back to the 12th century. It’s centrally located in the center or çarşı.
Kasimiye Medresesi: This structure dates back to the 15th century and used to serve as a medrese (theological school). Today, it’s a beautiful historic sight to see, with a wonderful view of the city. CumhuriyetMahallesi, Mardin
Mor Gabriel Manastırı: This is one of the largest and oldest Assyrian monasteries in the world and is very sacred, dating back to the 4th century. Midyat, Mardin. P: (0482) 213 75 12