Feast Your Eyes on Middle East Miniatures. But Where, When?

Feast Your Eyes on Middle East Miniatures. But Where, When?

A modern twist on Middle Eastern miniatures by contemporary artists from the region at Istanbul’s Pera Museum is on display until January next year.

A new exhibition at Istanbul’s Pera Museum, located in the historic Beyoglu district, opened on August 11. The exhibition, titled Miniature 2.0: Miniature in Contemporary Art, brings together artists from around the globe who reclaim the old art medium of miniatures and give it a brand new twist. It can be viewed until January 17, 2021.

Miniature 2.0 was meant to be opened on March 26, but because the museum was closed due to Covid-19 ten days before, it was postponed until after the reopening on June 16.

Curated by Azra Tuzunoglu and Gulce Ozkara, the exhibition spreads out over two floors of the beautifully renovated building and showcases artists from diverse geographies such as Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan.

In the past, miniature had been confined to beautifully decorated books that elevated it into an exquisite, yet two-dimensional, art form. Now, focusing on issues such as colonialism, orientalism, economic inequality, gender, and identity politics, miniatures take on a life on their own.

According to the Pera Museum website, the artists featured in the exhibition “do not treat miniature solely as a historical object, they emphasize its theoretical potential as a contemporary art form. Using various forms such as sculpture, video, textile, and installation, they bring out miniature from books, where it has resided for centuries, give it a new dimension, and search for ways in which miniature can live in the contemporary world.”

Rather, they’re visiting a historical form of art representation and infusing in it social political commentary of the present in different parts of the world.

Turkish artist Halil Altindere’s 2018 work “Sultan’s Accession to the Throne Ceremony with Drone”, made with the help of miniature painting artists Filiz Adiguzel Toprak, Fatma Akdas and Ayse Yilmaz Ozturk, recreates a painting of Konstantin of Kapidag from 1789.

The exhibition notes that Altindere “takes the viewer on a reverse time travel” by inserting a portrait of Mehmet the Conqueror held up in the air with a drone. There is also a smartphone selfie being taken in the painting, which, with what is yet another divergence from traditional miniatures, is larger than traditional ones.


In Palestinian-Saudi artist Dana Awartani’s 2017 site-specific installation “I Went Away and Forgot You. A While Ago I Remembered. I Remembered I’d Forgotten You. I Was Dreaming,” she uses coloured sand to create a traditional Islamic tile pattern in an old abandoned home in Jeddah, in a neighbourhood where her grandparents used to live.

Once she completes the installation, she begins sweeping away the sand and documents the process by video, which is shown in the exhibition behind an intricate pattern of sand. Her work is a “symbolic comment on the modern-day destruction of our cultural identity and heritage… not as an attack on modernisation, but rather pointing out the importance of the old and new co-existing and living together side by side.”

Iraqi-born American artist Hayv Kahraman portrays women sitting under a nabog tree with translucent skin and a faint blush to their cheeks. She uses photos of herself as models, and asks, “What makes someone an Iraqi, a woman, a refugee or Swedish?”

The pieces collectively remind museumgoers of the ability of recapturing the past in our present moment while showcasing the specificity of each artist’s story.

As the curators say, “The works in the exhibition argue for action against the nostalgia that freezes miniatures in time and detaches them from their cultural context. Today, as the longing for fake history grows, it may be necessary to problematize the past for a better present and a better future. Such local discourses acting globally indicate how urgent it is to think interculturally and internationally. Creative forms of resistance can be observed to spring up all around the world, and we need to update the way we see the world, just as miniatures were updated.”

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