a Love Temple in Istanbul: The Museum of Innocence

Arts & CultureFebruary 14, 2016
a Love Temple in Istanbul: The Museum of Innocence

If Istanbul has a heart, many of those who know the city well will agree that the beat of it lies in Taksim. Those who disagree and those who say ‘The heart of such an active city like Istanbul is also full of life’ surely wouldn’t doubt that this constantly shifting heart ‘hangs around’ Taksim. Well, in this locale where the heart of Istanbul beats; between İstiklal Street and Tophane, in Çukurcuma (Dalgıç Çıkmazı, no:2), will know the Museum of Innocence, which opened in 2012. Let’s take a closer look to this structure which totally deserves to be defined as the ‘Love temple of the city’ and the love that caused its coming-to-be. Come closer…

The novel, dedicated to Pamuk’s daughter Rüya, is set in between 1974 and the beginnings of 2000; it tells the story of Kemal, the son of a wealthy Istanbul family and his distant relative Füsun who belongs to the ‘lower class.’’ The novel can be seen as an alternative history book because it explains the daily life in Istanbul with flashbacks from roughly the 1950’s to 2000’s.

In the beginning of the 1990’s, an idea for a novel forms in Orhan Pamuk’s head. This idea; taking shape during many years, one day get’s written down and is eventually published (first edition: August 28th 2008, by Iletişim Yayınları)… Thus, Turkish literature is introduced to the grandest love story ever written: During the time the story turns from an idea into a real book, Pamuk wins a lot of prizes including the Nobel Prize in Literature (2006), and becomes a world-famous novelist.

Looking back to literature and cinema, there are countless examples of the story of two characters; one symbolizing wealth and the other poverty, who could-or-could-not-get-together just like in this book; but as soon as you get into the narrative of love and Istanbul of that time, it immediately makes you feel that it is a colorful, lively and timeless novel about happiness, passion, obsession, family, friendship, marriage. However it’s not only the content that makes this novel unique, but also the ability of the author who doesn’t just leave the story on the page; like it was mentioned in The Washington Post, ‘he puts love in front of us as if it’s some- thing palpable’. In 1999 Orhan Pamuk bought a three storied historical Brukner Apartment which dates back to 1897, located in one of the antique shop streets in Çukurcuma. In April 28th 2012, four years later after the release of his novel, he opened the Museum of Innocence aforementioned in the book. This building is considered to be the house where one of the main characters, Fusün and her family lived. The interior is furnished with daily life objects from the characters’ lives, especially Füsun and Istanbul of the time. Pamuk spent a lot of time, energy and money for this project. Now, the city has a love temple where visitors can touch the walls, go inside, walk through the rooms, sit, and get lost in thoughts. Wanting to be a painter and an architect until the age of 23 and becoming a novelist, this museum, curated by Pamuk, is Istanbul’s first city’s museum.

In ‘Afterword on Love and the Museum’ in the latest edition from the novel’s new publisher Yapı Kredi Yayınları, Pamuk says: “Between 1996- 2000 I used to take my daughter Rüya to school. After leaving my daughter to her school at the back of Tophane, I used to slowly walk in the back streets of Beyoğlu, Çukurcuma, Firuzağanand Cihangir to my study, thinking about what I was going to write that day. (…) Things I saw in those streets, fresh bread and simit in the bakery, an old poster for pain killers show- ing inner organs of a human on the pharmacy window or the colors of the carefully set pickles in the pickle store window… These awake an immense seeing, gazing pleasure; I would want to be sure that I keep these images, put them in a frame and watch, and not loose them. (…) In those times, I thought of buying stuff from these shops, creating a home-museum with my family filled with things from my life.”

Well-known art historian Simoon Schama from the Financial talks about the museum as “The most powerful, beautiful, humane and impressive contemporary artwork in the world.” Besides being a novelist, Pamuk, as the creator of this museum, is also a collector or contemporary artist? In the same text, it is possible to find an answer to this question from his mouth: “(…) My excitement was not of a collector, it was the excitement of a novelist-artist who designed this space to be a part of the novel and the museum and to become dizzy within this dream. (…) My first target in the novel was not about creating the museum, but to tell this complex, psychological, cultural, anthropological thing called love in cold blood. I didn’t want to put love up on a pedestal and say ‘Oh what a nice feeling!’ as most songs do so often. I wanted to express this feeling -like a traffic accident- as something that happens to us that mostly gives us a pain that we don’t want. ‘The Museum of Innocence’ is a thought about love first and foremost.”

With it’s first sentence “It was the happiest moment of my life, and I didn’t know it,” the book deserves the highest spot within ‘novels with great first sentences.’ The impressive entrance welcomes guests with an installation of 4.213 cigarettes that Füsun had smoked. Kemal had collected Füsun’s cigarettes, and kept the dates of when they were smoked with a short note from that day. Kemal ‘caught’ so many details about Füsun like this one. And of course her personal belongings; dresses, earrings, hairbands, shoes… When can one get a chance to get to know the main charac- ter of a novel so intimately? This might as well be the only reason to visit the Museum of Innocence.

The ticket of the museum is located in the 537th page of the novel. If you have already bought the novel and floated along Füsun and Kemal’s love story, you earned the opportunity to see this museum.

Pamuk also wanted a documentary of bringing this museum to real life. For the story of turning the Brukner Apart- ment into the Museum of Innocence, he once again picked director Demet Haselçin. They had met during the time she made the documentary ‘Aklın Gözü, Gözün Şenliği’ which tells the story of the miniatures from his novel, “My Name is Red.” Haselçin explains during an interview with Milliyet Pazar (April 29th, 2012): “I received a call one day in 1999 that began with ‘Miss Demet, I am Orhan Pamuk.’ I had already recognized him from his voice. ‘I want to talk to you about something secret and very important.’ He did not say what it was. I went to his house in Cihangir where we had worked before for the previous documentary we did. A study with an amazing view… First we talked about this and that. He went to the kitchen, made coffee, I helped him. Then we sat facing one other. I never forget, there was an old red chair. He explained what kind of a novel he was working on. (…) He said, ‘I bought a building, I want to turn it into something that goes hand in hand with the novel, maybe not even a museum’ He wanted me to make the documentary of the process. ‘Please don’t tell this to anyone, I trust you. If I tell anyone else in the media, the story will be in the press immediately, however it’s a long term project”. And I gave him that promise.”

Another production from the Museum of Innocence is a film that carries the same name. ‘Innocence of Memories / Masumiyet Müzesi’ was directed by Grant Gee and had a great world premier in Venice. Gee is known for his music clips for Radiohead and Muse along with cult documentaries such as ‘Joy Division’ and ‘Patience.’ The famous director tells a story about Istanbul from Pamuk’s ‘The Museum of Innocence’, ‘Black Book’ and ‘Istanbul,’ through a poetic and magical narrative. The plot of the film is about Füsun’s friend Ayla, who comes back to Istanbul after 12 years, and the palpable difference in the city during this period. Pamuk comments on the film ‘’It’s a serious, immense and intellectual movie’.’ The film is going to be presented for the first time in !f Istanbul (15th !f Istanbul Independent Film Festival, 18-28 February 2016 in Istanbul\ 3-6th March 2016 in Ankara and Izmir).

With ‘Innocence of Objects’ published by Iletişim Yayınları in May 2012, Pamuk continued telling his story about Istanbul and his life through objects from the Museum of Innocence. The book also functions as the catalogue of this interesting museum. ‘Innocence of Objects’ won the Mary Lynn Kotz Award in the United States in 2012 as the best museum and exhibition catalogue while Pamuk earned the title of being the most literary and artistic book authors.

The replicas of the objects from the museum are being exhib- ited at The Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House, London from the end of January until April 3rd.

Author: Güliz Arslan