“Miniature in contemporary art”: the museum of Pera revives traditional art with new forms

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The famous Pera Museum in Istanbul launched on August 11 a highly anticipated new exhibition entitled “Miniature 2.0: Miniature in Contemporary Art”.

Bringing together the works of 14 artists from around the world working in various media such as sculpture, video, textiles and installations, the exhibition highlights contemporary approaches to miniature painting. Curated by Azra Tüzünoğlu and Gülce Özkara, the showcase uses technique to focus on various issues such as colonialism, orientalism and economic inequality.

Shahpour Pouyan, “Mihr in a Bath House in Khwarazm”, 2019, mixed media and print on German cotton paper, 25 by 20 centimeters. (PHOTO COURTESY PERA MUSEUM)

Azra Tüzünoğlu and Gülce Özkara stated that the objective of the exhibition is “not to treat the miniature only as a historical object, but to consider it as a unique art form and to emphasize its theoretical potential”.

“In this exhibition, whose works take miniature painting as a starting point, we aim to explore different approaches and common principles of miniature painting, tracing the rules specific to the art form as well as its modern twist”, have added the commissioners. .

Revival of tradition

Miniature painting was a court practice not only in the Ottoman Empire but also in Persia and India. As the 18th century saw the empire struggle financially, along with the introduction of the printing press and the sultans’ growing fascination with Western art forms, the miniature lost its appeal at court to make way for new means of expression. The miniaturists look for other subjects and experiment with different new forms, such as mural painting. Even though miniature painting survived these developments, it could not maintain its dominance in the art world.

Pera Museum’s ‘Miniature 2.0: Miniature in Contemporary Art’ examines ‘contemporary miniatures’, which have moved away from their classical definition with a lively, more modern twist.


Cansu Çakar, 'Rahime', 2019, gouache, watercolor, ink and gold on paper, 70 by 70 centimeters.  (PHOTO COURTESY PERA MUSEUM)
Cansu Çakar, “Rahime”, 2019, gouache, watercolor, ink and gold on paper, 70 by 70 centimeters. (PHOTO COURTESY PERA MUSEUM)

The exhibition takes the contemporary miniature as a means of resistance. Beyond the familiar comparisons between East and West, the works pose questions about art and society to show the audience that other ways of living and thinking are possible. Problematic issues, such as colonialism, are also questioned at “Miniature 2.0” and create fertile ground to help visitors understand the changing structure of society and patterns of repetition.

Focus on the artists and their works

The exhibition features works by Hamra Abbas, Rashad Alakbarov, Halil Altındere, Dana Awartani, Fereydoun Ave, CANAN, Noor Ali Chagani, Cansu Çakar, Hayv Kahraman, Imran Qureshi, Nilima Sheikh, Shahpour Pouyan, Shahzia Sikander and Saira Wasim.

Interested in creating works that look at Turkey’s recent past and that carry a visual critique of the modernization process, CANAN produced two installations for the exhibition titled “Beauty and the Beast” and “Adam and Eve ”, as well as a series of drawings entitled “Falname”.

Altındere’s work “Tesla to the Moon” depicts 16th century scientists observing the 21st century from their observatory on the hills of Istanbul’s Tophane district. Referring to the painting made by the Ottoman court painter Konstandinos Kizikinos in 1789 in his work titled “Ceremony of Accession to the Throne of the Sultan with Drone”, Altındere brings together elements of the classical miniature style and contemporary figures.

Çakar’s “Tak Tak Tak Gırç Gırç Gırç Tak Tak Gırç Gırç”, “A Thousand Inks”, and “Rahime” include pictorial compositions influenced by the miniature style showing imaginary maps based on a particular sense of perspective.


Dana Awartani,
Dana Awartani, “I Went Away and Forgot You. A While Ago I Remembered. I Remembered I’d Forgotten You. I Was Dreaming”, mixed media installation with sand and natural pigments, single channel video, 22’11”. (PHOTO COURTESY PERA MUSEUM)

One of the leading exponents of contemporary miniature painting, Sikander uses classic Pakistani-Hindu miniatures as a starting point for leveling contemporary historical criticism. Premiering at the Sharjah Biennale, Sikander’s work in this exhibition, “Parallax,” is a three-channel installation made up of hundreds of digital animations. The work opens with the geostrategic importance of the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40% of Middle Eastern oil is shipped, and continues with the concepts of conflict and control as key themes of a period from the modern era to the postcolonial era.

One of the leading figures of his generation, Qureshi created his series titled “Moderate Enlightenment” between 2006 and 2009, which earned him international acclaim for bringing to light the discrimination that religious people have faced in around the world in the aftermath of September 11. Qureshi’s installation “Seeming Endless Path of Memory” and the video titled “Breathing” form a unique synthesis of the formal language of contemporary motifs, abstract painting, traditional motifs and techniques, exhibited with drawings commissioned for the exhibition .

Wasim created a series of striking works for the exhibition. The first work, drawn in the style of traditional Iranian miniatures from the 16th century, questions the marginalization of migrant children on Western television. Another work by the artist, “Silent Plea” (2019), refers to “Madonna”, the famous 19th century painting by French painter William Bouguereau. In the United States, 1,300 children are killed by firearms each year, while at the same time, the American government does not hesitate to meddle militarily in the affairs of other countries. The work indicates that guns are more valuable than children.


Noor Ali Chagani,
Noor Ali Chagani, “Hanging Carpet”, 2014, terracotta and wire, 109 by 75 centimeters. (PHOTO COURTESY PERA MUSEUM)

Landmark facilities

Alakbarov, who exhibited his works to a large audience at the Azerbaijan Pavilion during the Venice Biennale in 2013, creates unexpected scenes from discovered objects. He uses light and shadow as fundamental elements in his works, which can be described as shadow paintings. What at first glance appears to be haphazard heaps of metal or plastic objects thrown at random, the compositions can only be clearly seen when illuminated by light.

Chagan’s work of miniature terracotta bricks shows the influence of graffiti or wall advertisements. The artificiality of the uncovered materials and the fluid form of hard, solid objects such as bricks create a fascinating illusion for onlookers.

Awartani’s installation and video are among the most striking works in the exhibition. Created in a vacant house in one of Jeddah’s old neighborhoods, where the artist’s grandparents once lived, the installation shows Awartani covering the floors of the house with sand in a way reminiscent of old houses. Arabic while using the geometric shapes of the tiles in traditional Islam. art. Once this difficult process is complete, she begins to sweep the floors in symbolic reference to the destruction of cultural heritage.

The links between home, cultural identity and Islamic geometry are even more pronounced in the works of Abbas. The geometric patterns that the artist creates using two types of marble of different colors are reminiscent of the floor tiles used in houses as well as the marginal ornaments of miniatures. The choice of materials such as marble and sand goes hand in hand with the feeling of belonging and the desire to reinforce memories that she does not want to lose.


Hayv Kahraman, 'Nabog', 2014, oil on linen, each panel 292 by 140 centimeters.  (PHOTO COURTESY PERA MUSEUM)
Hayv Kahraman, “Nabog”, 2014, oil on linen, each panel measures 292 by 140 centimeters. (PHOTO COURTESY PERA MUSEUM)

Pouyan’s works, on the other hand, explore spaces, using culture to focus on fundamental concepts such as power, tyranny and sovereignty. His inspiration comes from Persian miniatures, and the artist makes reference to Sumerian, Babylonian, Persian and Indian cultures. One of two Persian miniature artists in the exhibition, the artist removes all figures from the surface of the miniature and allows the viewer to look at spaces that have separated from the narrative.

For this exhibition, Pouyan removed all the figures from a scene titled “Reception Ceremony of Elkas Mirza in the Süleymanname”, a book of Ottoman miniatures from the Topkapı Palace collection chronicling the life of Suleiman I, aka Suleiman the Magnificent.

With works that will attract the attention of lovers of traditional and contemporary art, the exhibition “Miniature 2.0: Miniature in Contemporary Art” can be seen at the Museum of Pera until January 17, 2021.

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