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Turkey Islamic group calls for art expo’s closure for ‘blasphemy,’ homosexual propaganda



IZMIR, Turkey — An art exhibition that brings together the works of top Turkish artists in a sumptuous 19th-century building in Istanbul has become the latest flare-up in Turkey’s culture wars, as an Islamist group and several Justice and Development Party (AKP) members urged its closure, saying that the works contain perversity and blasphemy.

The exhibition, called “Beginning From the Middle,” brings together from June 24-Aug. 30 some 400 works of art from the country’s most prominent — and most expensive — artists in Feshane, a former factory that used to make military gear and fes, or fez, the traditional red, flat-topped felt hat worn by men during the Ottoman era. The factory underwent a costly renovation over the last four years and reopened as an arts hub on June 23.

The inaugural exposition, whose title is inspired by a quote from French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, includes the works of Komet, the Paris-based Turkish painter of gloomy but dreamy scenes; Nes’e Erdok, known for her portraits of sad-looking strangers; and Murat Morovo, who combines calligraphy and traditional motives with hauntingly modern words. Taner Ceylan, the leading Turkish artist known for his hyperrealist paintings that play around gender roles, also displays one of his best-known works, “Ingres,” where he has superimposed the face of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres on the French painter’s portrait of Princess de Broglie.

Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, the opposition dynamo who snatched the city from the ruling party’s grip in the 2019 local polls, said at the opening that he aimed to turn many of the abandoned places in the city into public spaces where art and culture could thrive. “The banks of Golden Horn will be covered with cultural, sportive and artistic venues,” he pledged.

But this might be easier said than done.

Feshane, which is located on the banks of the Golden Horn, is located in the Eyup district, which is a historically significant area — especially for Turkey’s Muslims — due to the presence of the tomb of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, the close companion of the Prophet Muhammad. The district mayors have been from Islamist parties since 1994 and from the ruling AKP since 2004.

Deniz Koken, the new mayor of the district, denounced the exhibition as an affront to national sensitivities. “Anyone who sets out with the claim of serving this city should not forget that they are obliged to respect the values and moral principles of our society. … We expect the Istanbul Municipality to understand the society’s sensitivities and ensure that this moral line is not crossed,” he tweeted Tuesday.

Simultaneously with Koken’s statement, an angry group stormed toward the venue Tuesday afternoon, demanding that the artworks, which contained nudity, sex, homosexuality, blasphemy, pagan rituals and “hostility toward the police,” be taken down. The leader of the pack, Ozlem Dogan, the Ankara bureau chief of the arch-conservative newspaper Milat, had posted images of the works earlier, accusing the exhibit of providing a home to “all sorts of perversities, including pagan symbols, crossdressing and belly-dancing figures in front of a mosque.”

She expressly referred to Ceylan’s “Ingres” and a moving text on gender, identity and exclusion by queer artist Ekin Keser, who was killed in the devastating earthquake in Turkey.

Kursat Mican, the president of Alperen Hearths — a far-right youth group that adheres to Turkish nationalism with a mix of Sunni Islam — said that the exhibition must be removed immediately. “We warn Ekrem: Either he removes this exhibition or we as a nation know how to remove it,” he threatened….