|Apricots from Damascus
organized by Atıf Akın
and Dilek Winchester
December 23, 2015 - February 21, 2016
on view at SALT Galata
|Featuring work by:
Fehras Publishing Practices
Güven İncirlioğlu (The Pope)
Panel Discussion: January 6, 2016
Three panel discussions addressing aspects of the exhibition as it relates to local, regional, and global perspectives.
A 2015-16 apexart Franchise Program winning exhibition.
Zines produced for Apricots from Damascus, 2015
"One publishes to find comrades!" -Andre Breton, 1920(1)
Apricots from Damascus is a publication and exhibition project about art in a state of mobility and
exile, with a specific focus on İstanbul and current artist communities.
Since the escalation of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, more than three million people have left their
countries, with a majority fleeing to Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Apricots from Damascus focuses on a
particular group of refugees who rely on their creative and intellectual abilities in the fields of art,
writing, and music, to survive in their new environment: the city of İstanbul.
Between March 2010 and December 2011, artist Dilek Winchester founded and published a zine
called Apricot City A4 in İstanbul. Each issue of the zine was edited and designed by a prominent,
politically engaged artist or group, including Atıf Akın. Apricot City A4, was reproduced and
distributed throughout İstanbul by PVC pushcarts, common mobile businesses that provide services
such as photocopying, lamination, and an assortment of knick knacks for sale. These car-batteryoperated
pushcarts are part of the informal economy of İstanbul’s hyper-urban landscape, their
operators strolling around downtown and the historical peninsula in the daytime. Operators are
commonly immigrants from Eastern Anatolia, the city of Malatya in particular, which is famous for its
apricots. At the time, copies were printed and stapled on these modest portable pushcarts and sold,
on demand, for a few Liras.
Apricots from Damascus translates, in Turkish, to "Şam'da Kayısı.” Şam'da Kayısı is part of an
idiomatic expression meaning, "It does not get any better than this" (Bundan iyisi, Şam’da kayısı). In
most Romance languages, the word for "apricot" is “damasco," which indicates that the sweet fruit
was associated with Damascus, in Syria. The apricot, however, was also known in Armenia during
ancient times, and has been cultivated there. Its scientific name, Prunus armeniaca (Armenian plum)
derives from this origin. In Apricots from Damascus, the apricot – its origins and history –
symbolically represent the multilayered issues such as history of mobility and language in the region,
that the project addresses and attributes a positive connotation to the situation.
Though the term ‘refugee’ is often regarded as a technical and political term with bureaucratic
connotations, it accurately represents the stated condition: a refugee is a person seeking refuge. We
acknowledge the differences and specificities of the terms refugee, immigrant, and expatriate;
however, Edward Said’s thoughts on ‘exile’ are very relevant to the context of this project therefore
we use it as an all-embracing term.
In Reflections on Exile Edward Said writes, “Modern Western culture is in large part the work of
exiles, émigrés, refugees. In the United States, academic, intellectual, and aesthetic thought is what
it is today because of refugees from fascism, communism, and other regimes given to the
oppression and expulsion of dissidents.”(2)
Said’s reflections remain accurate in the age of global war today. He describes modern warfare,
imperialism, and the quasi-theological ambitions of totalitarian rulers, all of which precisely refer to
the current, tragic situation in the Middle East. Said expresses particular interest in the creative
character of exile, in that much of life in exile is taken up with compensating for disorienting loss by
creating a new world to rule. He observes, “It is not surprising that so many exiles seem to be
novelists, chess players, political activists and intellectuals.”(3)
Said further relates his observation about the condition of exile to occupations that require a minimal
investment in objects, but rather place a great premium on mobility and skill, thereby suggesting that
exile is implicitly tied up with movement. Apricots from Damascus is the expression of mobility and
exile among contemporary artists.
With the birth of the Turkish Republic in 1923, İstanbul lost much of its Babylonesque atmosphere,
including the loss of multilingual and multicultural communities that had been the subjects of the
Ottoman Empire. However, over the last ninety years, the demographics of Turkey continued to be
shaped by internal and international waves of immigration, with İstanbul serving as a permanent or
temporary base for many exiles. Immigrants have made significant contributions to art, architecture,
and humanities education in Turkey. Apricots from Damascus focuses on the art production of artists
who make contact with İstanbul, whether permanently, temporarily, from within, or outside it. In this
particular historical moment, this community is expanding and shrinking in waves that reflect mobility
caused by war-related displacement, and economic and climate change.
Artists commissioned for the project created original content for the zines, approaching issues in
ways that relate to their respective bodies of work. There are a number of reoccurring themes,
including the analysis and investigation of historical trade routes leading from the Middle East to
Europe, as well as cultural and ecological metaphors around these routes; the history of migration
and exile in modern İstanbul; and language and translation and representation of contemporary
Apricots from Damascus engages publication as an artistic practice in an effort to connect through
cultural commons, or the shared interdisciplinary knowledge acquired by varied communities. The
first stage of the project involves commissioning artists to produce zines, which will be distributed in
İstanbul’s public space through alternative means of distribution, including the PVC pushcarts. Zines
will be published in three languages: Arabic, Turkish, and English. These three languages are
important to correlate the artists, issues and the audience of the project. The project culminates with
an exhibition hosted by SALT, İstanbul, in December 2015, where the zines, artworks about the
themes explored in the zines, and documentation of the project will be displayed. The exhibition
space will serve as a social space where – exiled or settled – artists in İstanbul will come together.
1. André Breton, quoted in Gareth Branwyn Jamming the Media: A Citizen’s Guide Reclaiming the Tools of Communication (Vancouver: Chronicle Books, 1997).
2. Edward Said, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000).
Franchise Program Winner 2015-16
Atıf Akın is an artist and designer. He studied engineering and design at Middle East Technical University in Ankara. He taught various courses in the context of contemporary art and design in Europe and Istanbul. He joined the Visual Arts Department faculty at Rutgers University in September 2011. Currently he teaches at Mason Gross School of the Arts and runs his studio in New York City. He co-curated an extensive media art exhibition, Uncharted: User Frames in Media Arts, in 2009 and edited a book by the same name. He has worked with cultural institutions such as the Goethe Institute, KHM, University of Liege, ZKM and Ars Electronica. Currently he is working on Mutant Space, a research-driven art and design project on radioactivity and nuclear mobility.
Dilek Winchester studied at Central Saint Martin’s College in London and is currently based in Istanbul. Translation, literature, language, drama, oral history, and emotional expressions are among the subject matters that she deals with in her work. Selected exhibitions include Century of Centuries, Salt Beyoglu, Istanbul (2015), Anyone Could Be a Sculptor One Day, Spot Production Fund, Istanbul (2014), HomeWorks 6, Ashkal Alwan, Beirut (2013), Here Together Now, Matadero Madrid, Madrid (2013), Selling Snails in the Muslim Neighbourhood, Westfalischer Kunstverein, Munster (2013), and a Solo exhibition at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens (2012).
apexart's exhibitions and public programs are supported in part by the Affirmation Arts Fund, Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The Greenwich Collection Ltd., Lambent Foundation Fund of Tides Foundation, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts.