Sculptures in Nature: Turkey’s Baksı Museum Celebrates Its 11th Year

The Baksi Museum, the result of decades of work by Husamettin Kocan, was first conceived 20 years ago.

Now celebrating its 11th year, the museum is hosting an outdoors sculpture exhibition in the midst of a barren hill overlooking the Coruh Valley.

Baksi Museum is 45 kilometres outside of Bayburt, in the northeast of Turkey, overlooking the Coruh Valley. It is the result of the hard work of founder and artist, Husamettin Kocan.

Asked about the current Kiracta Heykel (Sculpture in the Barren Lands) exhibition, Kocan says the museum overlooks the Coruh river from 180 metres high, as it snakes through the valley. He says he wondered what it would be like to display the larger-than-life sculptures outdoors on the hill, near the ancient juniper tree that people would seek cures from.

“We thought we would combine nature with artworks,” he tells TRT World.

There are nine artists in the exhibition, whose works are “in extraordinary harmony with nature.” Kocan describes the Baksi project as “one of emotions, one of life, one of devotion, one dedicated to the future.”

Baksi means shaman, healer, poet, Kocan explains, in the Kazakh and Kyrgz languages. It is a tradition that has come to Anatolia all the way from Central Asia. The juniper tree, which they haven’t scientifically dated, goes back three-to-five hundred years, he says. People tie ribbons with their wishes on it, and it has become a symbol for them, Kocan adds.

Kocan, 75, says he went to school in the Bayburt area, until he moved to Istanbul for university. After attending engineering school for three years, he switched to applied fine arts school and started his career as an artist.

Five years after graduation, in 1975, he started working as an assistant at the same school. In 1990, he became the president of the International Association of Plastic Arts (UPSD). He tells TRT World that he worked on artists’ rights and recognition as well as democratisation of art. Kocan has had 46 exhibitions and received about 30 awards.

In 1995 he became the Dean of Marmara University Fine Arts Department. “One of the most important things I achieved there was to pull down the university walls and make it a public space,” he says, “so that the public could directly benefit from the university.”

In 2000, he started working on the Baksi project, laying the groundwork for the Baksi Museum. In 2005 he founded the Baksi Culture and Arts Foundation. In 2010 Baksi Culture and Arts Foundation’s museum first started its activities. “Baksi Museum became known as a museum that won many awards and became well-known as a world brand,” he adds.

“With the foundation of the Baksi Museum,” Kocan says, “my whole world started revolving around it. I asked to retire from the university, and dedicated myself to it wholeheartedly.”

“The story of Baksi Museum is the story of a father and son,” Kocan reminisces. “When my father who has always blazed a path for me in life passed away in 1987, I brought him back to his village. I saw that life had changed considerably in the village.”

Kocan says there were no village chambers, no cultural institutions; everybody was enraptured by their televisions – “those people who had sung songs to each other, who had told tales, had all but forgotten their past lives.” He adds that he wanted to honour the memory of his father and to bring cultural activities back to the village.

“Baksi itself is a social project,” Kocan emphasises. “Now spread out over more than five decares, it has become a social complex financed by artists and philanthropic art lovers.”

According to Kocan, the Baksi Museum is dedicated to the search for beauty, for the sublime, while not discriminating between high and low art. The museum is home to contemporary art and traditional handicrafts. He sounds proud when he shares the fact that the museum was deemed worthy of the The Council of Europe Museum Prize in 2014.

As for the Baksi Museum, Kocan believes it is the duty of a museum to lift up its neighbourhood economically, socially and culturally. “We have been focusing on employing women,” he says.

At the same time, he says he would like to stop Bayburt citizens leaving for bigger cities. “We give out tablets to students,” Kocan says, “and our board of directors is all women.”

“We would like Baksi to become a cultural centre,” Kocan says. “To that end, we have also opened up a guesthouse so that artists can stop by. Baksi Museum is a project of dedication, of hard work to make a cultural imprint on a town. There should be art everywhere that there is humanity. It shouldn’t be a passing acquaintance but an embrace.”

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