There are some women, who inspire with just one word. They are fair and square, right and sincere. They are women who create, generate and think; independently. Döne Otyam is one them, and we are listening to her born-into-arts life story, how she always wanted to be in this world, childhood memories with famous Turkish intellectuals and of course beloved famous journalist father Fikret Otyam… Not to forget the inside news from peerless Mardin Biennial.
How was your childhood years in Ankara? Did you have any idea that your lifestyle would be embedded in art?
I’ve always believed that I had a very lucky childhood. But it was also hard. I grew up missing my father. He was a journalist – he’d take his camera and water can, and would disappear for two months. And when he came back, he’d spend his days developing the photographs, meeting article deadlines, compiling local songs and working night shifts at the newspaper. His love for Anatolia had always been his priority. I’d play with those photographs, and watch them being developed and the songs my father would collect. I’d listen to their conversations as if they were fairy tales with Orhan Peker, Orhan Kemal, Kuzgun Acar, Ruhi Su and Mahsuni Şerif in the background. I would wake up at three in the morning when Ankara Art Theater cast would come to our house, and sit for hours listening to them, watching them. As three sisters, we grew up surrounded by a sense of compassion. How could you not accept love as your main principle when you listen to those songs, guests from homeless Beritan Tribe, those artists, and stories from Anatolia?
I almost never read a children’s book. I’d take books from by father’s library. At such an early age, my little head was filled with global issues and problems. I first traveled by a plane at 11 when I was traveling from Diyarbakır to Urfa. That’s how his passion got into our hearts to lead our lives. We wouldn’t know a life without art or literature. During my first years in college, I wrote my father that I wanted to open an art gallery. His reply was harsh: I knew so little so why should I open a gallery? I know a lot of his painter friends so that should be enough, I though. But I stuck to my dream and started working at Artisan, one of the most prominent and rare art galleries in Turkey, when I was still a student – this was a step towards my goal in life. I wrote articles, and worked at TV programs about art. There was no other job for me, considering my background.
We all remember your father’s love for Anatolia and his paintings of Anatolian women. What does Anatolia mean for you?
It means life. It’s reality and humanity; it’s a fairy tale, a story. It’s the feeling of real love and inheritance my father left for us.
Looking at the big picture, contemporary art is mostly central, Western and urban. Mardin can be a fierce game changer in this equation. Do you think West can spread in the East, big city in towns, and art everywhere?
To be honest, I’m not really sure that art is widespread in neither urban cities or the West. Though I do have an office in Istanbul, I’m based in Ankara, which is, in the end, is Anatolian. Everything revolves around Istanbul to some degree. Then comes Ankara, Diyarbakır, Mardin and Izmir. Is it possible for art to spread if in such a huge country everything is based in Istanbul or happening in one city? When even the capital city of Ankara has two or three museums in total, I don’t think I’ll be around to witness the expansion of art. But I do see great young artists and precious works in Mardin and Diyarbakır. Unfortunately, they’re all results of personal fights and initiatives; they’re alone so to speak.
Due to its geographical location and that it resembles an open-air museum, Mardin is a characteristic biennial city. How do you think is the relationship between the artists you chose, their works and the city?
It’s a great description. Mardin does resemble an open-air exhibition due to its location. I curated the first biennial but it was a collective effort. The second was curated by Paolo Colombo. The third one didn’t have a curator; it was a collective biennial comprising mostly locals, shopkeepers and artisans. The fourth biennial in May will be curated by Fırat Arapoğlu, Derya Yücel and Nazlı Gürlek. The first ones are the hardest. We found it difficult despite my knowledge of the region and the city. We wouldn’t be able to accomplish this if it weren’t for the local artists and effort. Maybe it’s Mardin’s charm but we had an unforgettable experience. Naturally at first, the locals were a bit distant. But we took one step at a time, interacting with the taxi drivers, electricians, shopkeepers and children. At every biennial, the international artists worked on site and had first-hand experiences with the city. The city adapted to us and we to them. There were such moments during the installation that it was as if Mardin and those stones were directing us. Sometimes the venues we chose would invite the works into their own rooms. It was as if that connection was built organically. Now, we form new connections and shape them as a big team.
Apart from art establishments’ management and organizations, do you think there’s been any development in terms of curatorial training – both theoretical and practical – in Turkey? Or except for a few prominent names, does this aspect come from a bit behind?
There are some new names though they are behind. Some great young names are trained as we speak.
Is there a city you recommend us to put on our radar for its discrete rise in the art scene?
Diyarbakır has always been there. And despite a compulsory hiatus, it still has a strong presence. I’m also interested in Sinop.
Which art movement impresses you the most?
Can you give us a song for Mardin, Ankara and Istanbul?
Since my middle name is Turna, I’d choose “turnam Gidersen Mardin’e” for Mardin. “Yiğidim Aslanım Burada Yatıyor” and “La Boheme” by Aznavour for Ankara. “Ave Maria” by Maria Callas for Istanbul.