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“What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!”

Byzantium in Popular Culture

November 23, 2021 - March 13, 2022

Istanbul Research Institute’s exhibition at the Pera Museum called “What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!”: Byzantium in Popular Culture, curated by Emir Alışık, navigates through the eclectic presence of Byzantium in popular culture. With the contribution of its advisors Brigitte Pitarakis, Elif Demirtiken, Felice Lifshitz, Haris Theodorelis-Rigas, Jeremy J. Swist, Marco Fasolio, Roland Betancourt, Sinan Ekim, Vedran Bileta, and Yağmur Karakaya, the exhibition explores multiple and conflicting meanings of Byzantinism and questions popular culture’s interaction with the Byzantine legacy by scrutinizing a selection of motifs representing Byzantium in popular culture.

Accompanied by a comprehensive exhibition catalogue, “What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!” borrows its title from Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu’s novel Panorama I-II (1953–1954), where his protagonist exclaims these lines, being frustrated with postwar Turkish society. Karaosmanoğlu knew precisely what he meant by Byzantinism, referring to not only the social unrest and hostility among the nation’s citizens but also the superstitions raging among society at the time, for they found the chaos they were living in otherwise inexplicable. The exhibition has stripped Karaosmanoğlu’s exclamation of its connotations and has taken it at face value, as a genuine question, all the while aiming—among other things—to show that Constantinople/Istanbul is naturally—historically and geographically—Byzantinism’s home turf.

While the academic and archaeological “rediscovery” of Byzantium in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had in counterpart wide repercussions throughout a wide variety of artistic expressions like painting, architecture, drama, music, and literature, the fascination for Byzantium was amplified over time and blossomed into new directions—from unlikely music and literature genres and painting and film-making techniques to textile production and new narrative mediums like graphic novels.

As access to Byzantine heritage in Constantinople gradually intensified, access to material sources of inspiration for Byzantinism marked a shift from Ravenna to Constantinople. The urban framework of Byzantium’s capital city and its inhabitants are at the core of the contemporary renewed interest in it. These popular materials have broken the boundaries of historical re-enactment and historical fiction, forging the exploration of new ways to appropriate Byzantine forms, history, and materiality as a means to tell unique stories. Although Byzantine history is sometimes mobilized to kindle hostilities by the manipulation of historical facts, the Byzantine legacy is frequently utilized to reflect on complicated sociopolitical issues, too, and are both critically represented in “What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!”. Bringing together contemporary novels, metal music, comics and graphic novels, visual arts, video games, movies, and fashion, the exhibition reveals how Byzantinism is a far-stretching phenomenon to be encountered even in places one does not usually look.

Click here to listen to the “What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!” podcast!

Image Credits

Max Bedulenko , Streets of Constantinople (2020).
Courtesy of Max Bedulenko.

Jonathan Godoy,The Byzantine Stones, 2007
Fountain pen, with real textures, added digital color and effects
Courtesy of the artist 

Scott EagleThe City of Saints and Madmen, 2001
Acrylic and collage on paper mounted to panel
Courtesy of the artist 

Ozgur Masur, Byzantium’20
Signature Collection

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3D Virtual Tour

Exhibition Catalogue

“What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!”

“What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!”

“What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!”: Byzantium in Popular Culture navigates through the eclectic presence of Byzantium in popular culture. Curated by Emir Alışık, the exhibition explores multiple and conflicting meanings of Byzantinism, and questions popular culture’s interaction with the Byzantine legacy. It scrutinizes a selection of motifs found in visual arts, literature, metal music, comics and graphic novels, video games, movies, and fashion representing Byzantium in popular culture.

“What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!”: Byzantium in Popular Culture Exhibition Tour <br> Emir Alışık

“What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!”: Byzantium in Popular Culture Exhibition Tour
Emir Alışık

Istanbul Research Institute’s exhibition at the Pera Museum called “What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!”: Byzantium in Popular Culture navigates through the eclectic presence of Byzantium in popular culture.

Sailing to Byzantium

Pera Film presents Sailing to Byzantium, an online film program parallel to the exhibitions, From Istanbul to Byzantium and “What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!” at Pera Museum.


Pera Learning

Once Upon a Time in Byzantium

In parallel with the exhibition titled “What Byzantinism Is This in Istanbul!”: Byzantium in Popular Culture, Pera Museum Learning Programs present “Once Upon a Time in Byzantium”, a series of engaging and informative online workshops and tours suitable for various age groups.

Half-Term Holiday Workshops

Pera Learning is organizing various online workshops for children between the ages of 7 to 12 as part of its Half-Term Holiday Learning Programs. The event will be held using the Zoom Meeting application, following a guided 3D virtual tour of the exhibitions.

Fluid Identities  Creating an Identity / Hybrid Identities

Fluid Identities Creating an Identity / Hybrid Identities

A firm believer in the idea that a collection needs to be upheld at least by four generations and comparing this continuity to a relay race, Nahit Kabakcı began creating the Huma Kabakcı Collection from the 1980s onwards. Today, the collection can be considered one of the most important and outstanding examples among the rare, consciously created, and long-lasting ones of its kind in Turkey.

Portrait of a Bullfighter (1797)

Portrait of a Bullfighter (1797)

The man is depicted in three-quarters view, turning straight to the viewers with a penetrating glance. The background is grey, while the clothes, the hair, and cap are black. 

Nam June Paik Video Art’s Pioneer

Nam June Paik Video Art’s Pioneer

Nam June Paik was video art’s pioneer (1932 –2006). It is interesting that while Warhol and Nameth were experimenting with psychedelic happenings that combined rock, film and performance, the video art pioneers Nam June Paik, Stephen Beck, Eric Siegel and Steina Vasulka were researching in a similar direction.