Taksim’s old water depot now home to art

This is not a spot many people headed for Taksim think of visiting. But, little do they know, Taksim actually takes it name from this old building, which has sat here silently for centuries.
The water depot building (called maksem in Turkish) at Taksim Square was built in 1732 upon the order of Ottoman Sultan Mahmut I to provide tap water to the city's Pera district and its environs. This historical building has been rescued and restored from its dilapidated state by the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality and turned into an art gallery. And now the Taksim Cumhuriyet Art Gallery is another stop on the city's string of art sites.

Restoration work on the building began in 2007, but there were big problems involving the local electricity infrastructure. In the end, though, these problems were solved and the gallery's first exhibition opened on Friday. The exhibition is titled "Sine-i Millet" (The Nation's Verdict) and it is sponsored by the İstanbul Municipality. The exhibition covers the transformation of Turkey's election and voting culture, starting from the Tanzimat (reformation) period in the first half of the 1800s to the First Constitutional Era (Meşrutiyet) during the Ottoman period, all the way to the founding of the Turkish Republic and the transition to a multiparty system. The exhibition, curated by M. Lütfi Şen, marks the first time a visual tour of Turkey's political election culture has been put on display.

Posters, memorandums and seals

The "Sine-i Millet" exhibition is divided into four different sections, "Election Tales from 1840 to 1950," "A Portrait of Turkish Women as Voters and Elected Figures," "The Visual History of Laughing through Elections" and the interactive "Voting the Cultural Values of our Republic."
In the first section, a chronology of Turkey's election history from the early 19th century to 1950 is presented. This section uses a rich display of ballot boxes, posters, brochures, ballots, seals, electoral rolls, photographs and newspaper and magazine clippings to portray this interesting history.

Placed along the gallery's long corridors are photographs, posters, stamps and magazine clippings showing the relatively early period -- in comparison with many other nations in the world -- in which Turkish women were granted the right to vote. The third section is a showcase of cartoons and cinematic works depicting the history of Turkey's cultural commentary on elections.

The exhibit's interactive section allows Turkish citizens to actually vote on what is valuable to them. By casting their votes, visitors can determine the official novelists, poets, artists, painters and athletes of the republic. The results of these votes are broadcast on a giant digital screen in Taksim Square.

The exhibition offers a wealth of information on what political parties were really like 100 years ago, who the first elected deputies of this nation were, how elections used to take place -- in an almost festival-like atmosphere -- and even how the ballot boxes were dressed up like brides. These are all glimpses into past perceptions of the importance of elections in Turkey. Visiting this new exhibition might offer new insights into the country's process of democratization and its electoral culture as the next local elections approach. The "Sine-i Millet" exhibition will run through Jan. 30.

Musa İğrek, İstanbul
Today's Zaman
24 December 2008, Wednesday

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