Magazine article Artforum International

Koken Ergun: Garage Museum of Contemporary Art

Magazine article Artforum International

Koken Ergun: Garage Museum of Contemporary Art

Article excerpt


Koken Ergun


In a 2013 advertisement for the eleventh annual Turkish Language Olympics, students, styled like life-size versions of the fetishistically multicultural automatons from Disneyland's "It's a Small World" ride, gather around a picnic table in a grassy field. A Slavic-looking boy in an embroidered peasant blouse lifts a lid on a tureen, takes an approving sniff, and then announces in stilted Turkish, "Radishes, right?" An African girl in a purple hijab turns to her seatmate, who is sporting a Mongolian loovuz. "It is similar to your national dish," she remarks, using the same formal Turkish.

Welcome to the utopian Turkish-speaking world imagined by the Turkish Language Olympics. Founded in 2003 (the same year current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power as prime minister), the international competition pits students from Turkish schools around the globe against one another in such categories as singing, folk dancing, and poetry recitation. The finals are held with much fanfare. Onstage activities are accompanied by a miniature world's fair, to which participating countries bring such "exotic" delights as raw vanilla and taxidermied crocodiles, so that members of the Turkish middle class might take selfies with them. In 2013, the eleventh edition reportedly included participants from 140 countries, and then-prime minister Erdogan spoke at the closing ceremonies.

It was the last year the competition would take place on Turkish soil. Shortly thereafter, the increasingly suspicious Erdogan launched an attack on the Language Olympics and the international network of Turkish schools behind it. While not formally united by any one organizing body, these schools are loosely associated with the Gulen movement, a free-form humanitarian initiative following the teachings of Fethullah Giilen, an Islamic scholar and cleric now living in self-imposed exile in the United States. Also known as Hizmet (Service), the movement advocates a moderate Islam that embraces technology, interfaith dialogue, and education. In December 2013, Erdogan publicly broke with the Gulen movement--which he had formerly allied with-- denouncing its "dangerous" pretensions to running a "parallel state." While Erdogan could not legally force the closure of the Gulen schools, he has since applied pressure to foreign governments to act in his stead. …

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