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The educational board of Kulturverkstan has spent a couple of days in Istanbul, visiting organisations, students on internships, and taking part of the vibrant cultural life of the metropolis. We have visited and discussed the possibility of future cooperations with, among others, the following: Garasjistanbul, Istanbul´s major scene for experimental dance and theatre, with a huge international network; Filmmor, a feminist film festival that gains a rapidly growing domestic as well as international attention for its creative work for gender equality; Kalem, a literary agency as well as festival, that focuses on bringing world literature to Turkey, and Turkish literature to the rest of the world; Pozitif, one of the major labels of the Turkish music industry, as well as a leading concert and festival producer.
The impression of cultural diversity and expressive power is indeed overwhelming. Some features seem to be common to the initiatives we have visited. One is a sense of curiousity for the surrounding world, whether it is Western Europe, Japan, Brazil, or the Middle East. This openness is usually explained by the fact that Turkish cultural life for decades suffered from isolation when the country was ruled by a military dictatorship. A crucial year in this respect seems to be 2005, when several initiatives suddenly came in to action.
Everything is not at its best. As Mustafa Avkuran, director of Garasjistanbul, points out, there are many limits to the freedom of expression, both artistically and journalistically, both formal and informal. According to recent reports, no country in the world has so many journalists in jail as Turkey. And Tugce Canbolat, at Filmmor, told us that domestic violence has increased during recent years, partly as a tragic consequence of women´s stronger demands for equal rights. This does not in any way prevent Filmmor for carry on their work, on the contrary. The cooperative has two main objectives: to increase involvement of women in cinema and in the media, and to disseminate non-sexist representation and experiences of women. To this end they not only organise festivals, but also workshops on how to write, produce and make films. Right now they are engaged in a documentary project that highlights the situation for women in Turkey and Sweden.
Nermin Mollaglu and Mehmet Dermitas at Kalem Agency work for the exchange between literatures in many ways. They are literary agents, but they also organise book festivals, and have taken an ambitious initiative to promote translations (and translators). One of Kulturverkstans students, Silke Spangler, is doing her intership this spring at Kalem.
Another one of our students, Ricardo Samaniego, is doing his internship at Pozitif, one of the most influential networks in Turkish music industry. It contains of many things, as Okan Aydin told us when we visited his office in central Istanbul: festival organiser, record label, radio station, and – not the least – one of the hottest scenes in Istanbul´s boiling club life: Babylon.
There is of course many paradoxes in the Turkish cultural life: the state support for the arts is limited, which forces all organisations to search for sponsors, a both tiresome and time demanding work. The ruling AKP party (no one expects it to lose the upcoming elections in June) is on the one hand strictly conservative on moral issues, but is one the other hand liberal in economics and strongly in favour of closer relations to the European Union. The atmosphere that the visitor meets in Istanbul is one of a self confident and proud nation and culture, situated as it is between the historic Orient and Occident, determined to play a role that suits it size and traditions, both in the region and on the world scene as a whole.
Text: Mikael Löfgren, acting Manager at Kulturverkstan
Photo: Malin Schiller, Coordinator at Kulturverkstan, & Karin Dalborg, Manager at Kulturverkstan
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