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New Exhibition at Pera Museum: “What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!” Byzantium in Popular Culture


Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation Pera Museum and Istanbul Research Institute are presenting another exhibition, this time dealing with the representations of Byzantium in popular culture, simultaneously with the exhibition “From Istanbul to Byzantium”, which examines scientific research on Byzantium. “What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!”: Byzantium in Popular Culture exhibition brings together common themes of Byzantine perception in various fields, from literature to video games, from comics to music, from cinema to fashion. The exhibition can be visited at Pera Museum between 23 November – 6 March.

What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!” the exhibition takes its name from the novel Panorama by Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu. The protagonist of the novel uses the expression ‘What is Byzantium?’ in the book, which deals with a period in Turkey’s recent history and the social and political turmoil of the post-World War II years, and the author, with this word that comes out of his own character’s mouth, the cultural segregation between the citizens of the young republic is getting sharper, expresses his identity crisis and clinging to blind beliefs as a remedy.

Peter Tirpák * ICON! THE POP-ART ICON!, 2018-2019 * Mixed media (acrylic + gold) on canvas, 50 x 60 cm* Courtesy of the artist

The exhibition, which deals with the concept of Byzantium with its different faces and manifestations, reveals how the symbols and values ​​that symbolize or are attributed to Byzantium find a place in various art mediums. The curator of the exhibition, Emir Alışık states that “Constantinople/Istanbul is the home of Byzantium both historically and geographically” and summarizes the background of the exhibition with these words: “The academic and archaeological ‘rediscovery’ of Byzantium in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is in many artistic expressions – painting, architecture, theatre, music, literature, etc. – had a wide resonance, and Byzantine curiosity grew over time, reaching new horizons, from unconventional literature and musical genres to painting and filmmaking techniques, textiles, and even new means of expression such as graphic novels. Although Byzantine history was sometimes used to arouse hostility through the manipulation of historical knowledge, Byzantine heritage was also often used to reflect complex sociopolitical issues. This exhibition reveals that Byzantium is a phenomenon with a wide range of influence that we encounter even where we do not look for it.”

Icons, iconic characters, superheroes

“What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!” the exhibition opens with an iconostasis that separates the main space in Byzantine churches from the section that only the clergy can enter. Traditionally covered with images depicting the scriptures, this wall showcases the influence of Byzantine icons on the iconic characters and superheroes of our time, this time in contemporary design at the Pera Museum.

The exhibition features works by more than 50 artists, writers, illustrators, musicians, filmmakers, and fashion designers that interpret and visualize the uniqueness and exoticism attributed to Byzantium from different perspectives.

Max Bedulenko, Aluísio Cervalle Santos and Yurii Nikolaiko bring new perspectives to the monumental architecture of the Byzantine city and the city, as well as the artists featured in the exhibition with their digital illustrations. While Jonathan Godoy, Stelios Faitakis, Taha Alkan, Xanthe P. Russell transform scenes are taken from the holy book, Peter Tirpak portrays a pop-art icon, and Aleksandar Todorovic describes the founder of Facebook as a saint. Known for her extraordinary portraits, Scadarts plays with the Empress Irene mosaic, this time via iPhone. Fashion designer Özgür Masur’s collection named Byzantine’20 and Dice Kayek, which consists of Ayşe and Ece Ege, point to the reflections of Byzantine iconography in the field of fashion with the Victoria & Albert Museum award-winning “Hagia Sophia” design. While the photographs taken by Marco D’Amico for Vogue Italy again highlight the Byzantine image, the reflections of this iconography in the world of comics represent the historical adventure written by Romain Sardou and illustrated by Carlos Rafael Duarte.

Taha Alkan * Mosaic Incarnation, 2017 * Mixed Technique * Courtesy of the artist

In his work at the exhibition, illustrator-designer Necdet Yılmaz portrays the famous cat of Hagia Sophia, Gli, who died last year, as a celestial being. The cover of the book “Theodora, the Love God of Byzantium” published in 1948 by journalist and novelist Murat Sertoğlu, known for his serials, and the poster of the movie “Byzantine Collapses”, featuring the character of Tarkan played by Kartal Tibet, uses Byzantium as an antithesis in almost every field, It sheds light on the problems of historiography loaded with nationalist discourses.

“What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!” the catalog that accompanies the exhibition brings together the articles of 10 historical researchers who examine and interpret all these representations in various fields of art separately. Articles discussing and classifying “Byzantium” in many areas of popular culture bear the signatures of these artists: Roland Betancourt, Felice Lifshitz, Brigitte Pitarakis, Sinan Ekim, Yağmur Karakaya, Elif Demirtiken, Jeremy J. Swist, Marco Fasolio, Haris Theodorelis-Rigas and Emir Alışık.

“What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!”: Byzantine in Popular Culture exhibition can be visited at Pera Museum until 6 March.

Pera Museum can be visited from Tuesday to Saturday between 10:00 and 19:00, and on Sundays between 12:00 and 18:00. All visitors can visit the museum free of charge on Fridays between 18:00 and 22:00 as part of “Long Friday”, and on Wednesdays as part of “Young Wednesday”.

Image 1:

Jonathan Godoy
The Byzantine Stones, 2007
Fountain pen, with real textures, added digital color and effects.
Courtesy of the artist


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