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Next month Russian American Cultural Center (RACC) will present at its satellite space in Melville “Turkish past, Ottoman present” and “Spengler in Turkey”, two related exhibitions of collages by Dmitry Borshch. The former coincides with the fifth anniversary of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ascension to Turkish presidency. The latter marks the hundredth anniversary of what a century ago was called “The Spengler Year”, when a book by German thinker Oswald Spengler “Der Untergang des Abendlandes” or “Decline of the West” was broadly talked and written about.
Two weeks after Erdoğan ascended to the presidency Borshch organized an exhibition in Istanbul, “Turkey’s New Sultan”, for which, the artist explains, “[he] had to revive the Soviet practice of apartment exhibitions. No gallery in Turkey that we contacted would agree to mount it, fearful of being prosecuted on charges of “insulting Turkishness” – Article 301, Turkish Penal Code. So, as in eighty-nine when I and other nonconformists mounted exhibitions in Dnepropetrovsk apartments because galleries could only exhibit Soviet (meaning Socialist Realist) works, the curator of this exhibition found an apartment in south Istanbul where we showed fifteen drawings on the prime ministership of Erdoğan and invited sympathetic locals to visit; about seventy visited during the exhibition’s almost three weeks, many of them artists. “Turkish past, Ottoman present” is an outgrowth of “Turkey’s New Sultan”. All fifteen collages in it depict Erdoğan and members of his sultanic, neo-ottoman court, such as Binali Yıldırım, Ahmet Davutoğlu, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.”
This was the second of two apartment exhibitions mounted by the artist in 2014. Less than three months before it, reacting to the passage of what is known as Russian Federal Law 135 – FZ or “gay propaganda law”, he had the other apartment exhibition in Moscow. Borshch continues to employ this tactic of apartment exhibitions in Putin’s Russia, Erdoğan’s Turkey, and elsewhere, as he did in the Soviet Union.
A smaller room, adjacent to the one where “Turkish past, Ottoman present” is mounted, contains “Spengler in Turkey” – five ink drawings and eleven collages, through which the artist shows how Turkish conservatives used Oswald Spengler while pursuing their nationalistic, often expansionist, goals. “No one in Turkey now or a century ago called 1919 “The Spengler Year” (he is less known there than Arnold Toynbee who was perceived as more useful to westernizing Young Turks). “Decline of the West” reached Turkish readers late, through an unsatisfactory, incomplete translation in 1978, after his “Man and Technics” was translated and published in 1973. By incomplete I mean only the book’s first volume, Batı’nın Çöküşü I, was issued by the publisher, never the second… Excerpts from Spengler-influenced, -inspired writings of men as diverse as Mehmet İzzet, Burhan Asaf Belge, Vedat Nedim Tör, Peyami Safa, Hilmi Ziya Ülken, Cemil Meriç, İsmet Özel, Doğan Özlem, Ali Bulaç, and Yusuf Kaplan are rendered in Turkish calligraphically, with my English translations on the same pink sheets (I have also translated them into Russian, to be used when the show travels to Saint Petersburg and Voronezh, Russia),” explains the artist.
“Turkish past, Ottoman present” and “Spengler in Turkey” are guest-curated by an anonymous curator who belongs to the Slavs and Tatars collective. He holds a PhD in modern Turkish history, and has written about the Armenian Genocide. This collective describes itself as “a faction of polemics and intimacies devoted to an area east of the former Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China known as Eurasia.” Like the exhibition “Spengler and the Decline of Russia”, organized last year by RACC to mark the centenary of “Decline of the West”, our two exhibitions are supported by funds from New York State Council on the Arts, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and Materials for the Arts.
Russian American Cultural Center (520 East 76th Street, Suite 7E New York, NY 10021) aims to provide permanent cultural representation to more than 700,000 Russian-speaking residents of New York. It was founded in 1998 by Dr. Regina Khidekel and earned its 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status in 1999. RACC has adopted and broadened the strategy of organizations like No Longer Empty (http://www.nolongerempty.org/) which invigorate neighborhoods by mounting exhibitions in their unutilized or temporarily underutilized spaces. Visitors coalesce around a space where art may never have been exhibited before.
Dmitry Borshch was born in Dnepropetrovsk, studied in Moscow, today lives in New York. His drawings and sculptures have been exhibited at the National Arts Club (New York), Brecht Forum (New York), Exit Art (New York), CUNY Graduate Center (New York), Salmagundi Club (New York), ISE Cultural Foundation (New York), Williamsburg Art and Historical Center (New York), Triangle Arts Association (New York), Parish Art Museum (Southampton), International Human Rights Law Institute of DePaul University (Chicago), the State Russian Museum (Saint Petersburg), Central Exhibition Hall “Manege” (Saint Petersburg), Frieze Art Fair (London).
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