Outside curves a narrow back street of Beyoglu. An older, dusty-cream color corner building leans slightly toward a sheltered stairway, looking like it could use a little rest against the grand back wall of Galatasaray High School rising like a fortress. Plain metal doors on the entrance floor of the five-storey structure give little hint to what lies within. The unassuming sign above the doorway reads Galeri Apel.
As if in line with the gallery owner's own philosophy of art, the invitation to peek in is subtle. One might easily miss the door tucked in a corner of one of Istanbul's most eclectic districts, the new SoHo if you will. But finding the opportunity to enter Galeri Apel has its own rewards, and not just for an art collector.
Even from the entrance, the mission of the gallery becomes clear - no colorful paintings crowding the walls, no gaudy art waiting to find home over a fireplace. In fact, the whole space seems to be one magic artist's playground, complete with a collection of pure white giant ants on stands filled with soil, dragonflies floating in the glass-covered balcony, mini earthen replicas of southeastern homes and more, all begging to be touched, explored and pondered upon. The art here seems to vibrate with its own energy, demanding the eyes that fall on it to move closer and really feel, breathe and merge with it.
Proprietor and curator Nuran Terzioglu welcomes the visitor to her playground, which she generously shares with -especially younger- artists, other curators, collectors and anyone with a curiosity to find out more about the current art scene.
Bringing art to the public
Many of the exhibits at the gallery so far have had themes connected to either nature or everyday life. Terzioglu's own preoccupation with the elements becomes clear with her recurrent "Earth and Fiber" themed exhibits, or ones on harvest or neighbors. "We want art to be incorporated into daily life," she says, pausing as if to find the right words. She finally smiles shyly, almost amused by her own response. "Maybe I am a romantic, but I believe most problems can be overcome through art, through working together, everything can be dealt with."
Obviously, her belief in the power of art has also played a role in her strong support of younger artists. Talented visionaries more concerned with the process than the outcomes have found a haven in the cozy interior of the gallery. "Most of our artists are those who do not care so much about creating a name for themselves, they are doing what they do for pure art, for the love of what they do, they exhibit pieces less geared to commercial success perhaps," she says.
Looking around, one has to agree. The entrance to the gallery is usually reserved for pieces from the last exhibit, and on this day a brick wall partitions the space - a wall put together piece by piece inside the gallery, showing off the image of a dark silhouette, of a man squatting, pondering. The piece is one of the works of Sakine Çil, and pays homage to the photography of Aramis Kalay. With dimensions of 160 by 200 by 11 cm, just thinking of the labor of laying each individually fired brick, with the artwork on it, is enough to respect the vision of both artist and curator.
With the bold greeting of Çil's "Shadow" and more of her works on the walls, the appetite is whet for more. The downstairs of the gallery is minimalist, with a silvery, almost postmodern feeling of spaciness surprising for the otherwise small area. An image of Mona Lisa keeps company on one wall; what looks from far like a sketch of the infamous lady turns out to be a Yıldız Şermet black-wire study, perched on a white background, adding a three-dimensionality and playfulness to the space.
That playfulness continues upstairs, with a greeting of ants -- both from paintings on the walls and from mini canvases spread out on the wood floors. As part of Kurucu Kocanoglu's exhibit "The ones I didn't write and Ants," the depiction of ants form part of his theme on how our hopes and our worries play against each other in a fine balance. One of the rooms is bare and dim, except for two rows of stands with open, bookmarked blank white pages lit from under. The plainness of the brick walls and bare wood floors form the periphery of Kocanoglu's blank pages demanding attention, creating a reverent atmosphere. One can easily spend hours thinking over all worth writing about that has yet to find meaning. Depending on the mood, blocked emotions can come to mind, or hope, as Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet once said "
the most beautiful word I have to say to you, is the one I have yet to utter
Apel and Istanbul's place in the Art World
"Istanbul is a city like no other, it forms a microcosm of the country as a whole, each neighborhood here a reflection of some other part of the country," says Terzioglu, and points out that Beyoglu is one of the most interesting spots of the city, with its eclectic culture throughout history. While the gallery is off the main stretch, it still attracts art students, regulars and few but esteemed collectors, she says. "Local elementary school kids like to come in and look around, they enjoy it and it is really a joy to see them."
The gallery has also attracted sufficient attention in its 10 years to help artists get noticed both across Turkey and abroad. From Diyarbakir in Eastern Turkey to Japan, Terzioglu has been instrumental in curating exhibitions that brought artists closer to diverse audiences. Following an exhibit in Japan with Turkish artists in 2004, Galeri Apel reciprocated with a show of Japanese art in Istanbul, in collaboration with Japanese curator Ko Matsunaga, in 2006. Seeing the two countries as two windows on opposite sides of the Asian continent, Matsunaga told Turkish Daily News his reflections on the events. The setting of the gallery, with its natural brick walls, had appealed to his sense of touch, and ignited his wish to show works there of Japanese artists who also utilized natural elements such as wood and paper. "The world is becoming computerized and everything is visualized, so people forget the importance of reality found in the sense of touch," he says. "Actually, our deep consciousnesses are formed by the senses never re-expressed, like touching or smelling. And I believe that the role of art is to make people reminded of it."
With her own background in fiber arts, Terzioglu focuses on trying to prevent people from forgetting about that important 'sense of touch' says Matsunaga, coining her efforts "the resistance of art."
Perhaps it was that sense of resistance that drew Terzioglu to collaborate in an exhibit in the southeastern part of Turkey in 2005, with the theme of Nevruz - Newroz - a celebration of spring. Joining forces with Anadolu Kultur, an organization bringing art and cultural activities to cities outside the major centers with the belief in the unifying and transformative power of art and culture, the exhibit provided a space for artists from both Istanbul and Diyarbakir at Diyarbakir Cultural Center (DSM). A very colorful and multifaceted exhibit was produced, says Mine Ozerden, administrative coordinator for Anadolu Kultur. The exhibit was significant, as it brought Apel, DSM and Anadolu Kultur closer with their sensitivity to social responsibility and understanding, she says. "The audience, participants and those putting the exhibit together experienced new relationships, and found a new awareness."
Reflecting on Anadolu Kultur's work with Terzioglu, which also included a collaboration at Apel with the theme "Neighbor" in 2006, Ozerden says Terzioglu has the ability to achieve more than just curating an art exhibit. "Ms. Terzioglu not only curates the exhibits of the artists working with Galeri Apel, she distills the cultural sensitivities and agenda through her multi-faceted personality, and comes up with a theme to then have artists with different outlooks, who use diverse materials, work around the concept to create freely and exhibit their works together."
Future of art in Istanbul and at Apel
The road for an artist here can be challenging, reminds Terzioglu, when "art is rarely in the foreground, at the front of topics, when the political winds change every day," she says. "Art is put aside, out of necessity."
Even so, her own efforts focus on bringing out new talents to share with her audience, and Terzioglu says she tries to keep in touch with the scene by following student exhibits. "Over half of the scene is made of younger artists, I really like being able to help open the way for them. Some of our artists have also presented abroad; curators who come to Istanbul know our name and make time for us."
And with all its challenges, Terzioglu believes artists in Istanbul can still make a place for themselves, with the right use of their time and effort. "I believe Istanbul is very fertile for artists - whatever you do here, you will be adding a brick to the already rich atmosphere." She pauses, and the rich atmosphere of the gallery comes to support her words, sharing the visions of both the curator and the artists.
"A young artist needs to be a devout follower, not only of the art scene, but of other disciplines as well - not just the visual," she says, following with practical, tested advice for success: "The scene is more interdisciplinary now. Along with following galleries, exhibits, one needs to be open to learn through more reading, more music, through any art form that can enrich a person."
"All these opportunities are highly available in Istanbul," she says. "A person who uses time well will most definitely find success, the way is not blocked."
Galeri Apel's way also looks open, with plans for their 10th year exhibit in September 2008, which they will celebrate at the Tutun Deposu (Tobbaco Depot.) "We wanted to celebrate Apel outside of the gallery; it will be called 'Je m'appelle Apel' and will include those artists who have come to be associated with Apel," Terzioglu says, and a new excitement comes over as she shares the background of the building, reliving the four years they spent renovating with architect Nevzat Sayin. "The plan was done to accommodate the types of exhibits we wanted to bring in," she says, drawing attention to the play of natural elements in the interior, with its bare brick walls and wood floors. The name of the gallery also pays homage to the original name of the building, Apelyan, given by the family that constructed the building in the late 1800s.
Through all the accomplishments of the gallery and artists who have been through, Terzioglu remains humble, finding herself lucky to be in a position where she can contribute with her years of learning. She worked in the art world of Ankara for 25 years before moving to Istanbul, and got trainings while in the United States as well as through Bauhaus. Her latest interest was in textile arts, which she studied and brought in to her work often. "Our mission here is to aid even if just a bit, I feel education is an ongoing process, a constant learning from the viewers, from the artists," she says.
From her childhood on, getting the support of family members who noticed her fascination with art helped her curiosity and imagination grow, Terzioglu says, with a trace of emotion as she recalls those days. She also says she feels lucky to have chosen a branch of arts in line with who she is: "My work brings to the foreground material, effort, thought and design of the space. It is befitting me, the periods I trained though, the cities I lived in -- all added a great deal and I feel now I am serving Istanbul."
Güler Güngör's Yilan-Zaman (Snake-Time) will be at the gallery from May 31 to June 30. Timing the exhibit for the beginning of summer was intentional, Terzioglu says, as it coincides with the time of year a snake sheds its skin. The artist, who grew up in Urfa, reminisces her own childhood games with these skins, likening our emotions to skins we carry around, with our angers, frustrations, jealousies, yet with no courage to shed them, unable to be as brave as a snake risking starvation and death in its process of renewal. We escape, afraid to face ourselves, to face the heavy consequences, but dying a thousand fold through our fears.