5 Takeaways From the Fourth Annual Istanbul Arts Festival

BFA/Courtesy of Nadine Johnson Inc.

The fourth edition of Istanbul'74's Istanbul International Arts & Culture Festival, which ran June 13–15, had artists and filmmakers talking everything from 9/11 conspiracy theories to Beyonce's sexuality

Dorothy Parker may want to rethink her remark that “authors and actors and artists and such — never know nothing, and never know much.” From June 13 to 15, the Istanbul'74 Istancool Arts & Culture Festival took the “Queen of Cities” by storm with a motley crew of in-demand creatives flying in to participate. In the midst of the three-day affair of public panel talks and mazes of parties, the camaraderie was what most ran wild.

“My brother” served as the salutation of choice, uttered between JR, Waris Ahluwalia, Jose Parla, James Nares and Robert Montgomery — even Shirley Manson — in public, on Instagram and in the wee hours of the humming light of Istanbul. Amid the lovefest though, ideas spun, reserved not only in the sometimes-painful, other times empowering moderated discussions on everything from politics to photography to poverty to prosperity, but also over the course of three lavish evenings (and a few secretive late-night haunts, as is the norm on the Mediterranean).

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The festival — run by "It" fashion couple Demet Muftuoglu and Alphan Eseli, the face and brains behind Istanbul'74, the organizing cultural foundation — attains its goals to “cultivate platforms that connect Istanbul to the International cultural scene…by acting as the principal international arts and cultural provider of Turkey.” The fourth edition of this festival, back after last year’s hiatus due to the Gezi Park protests, is not just an excuse for the beautiful, cool and interesting — there were plenty on board, including such luminaries as Abel Ferrara, Peter Beard and Liya Kebede — to play around on their turf. Below are five takeaways from the collective.

1. “Even our moms think we’re alike,” joked Parla on his twinsie status with French photographer du jour, JR. In fact the first time the duo, known for their vintage dark classic sunglasses and dark fedoras, spotted each other, the scene was much like an anthropological encounter. At the festival, the two screened the film Wrinkles of the City, a documentation of their 2012 Havana Biennale project wherein portraits of elderly residents were installed onto crumbling buildings around the city. “We were driving in the city [Havana] searching for elderly people, like guys searching for women,” joked JR on how they charmed their subjects into art models. 

2. It’s not often that an alt musician is asked about politics, especially conspiracy theories. When moderator Hakan Tamar, a local DJ, asked Shirley Manson, “9/11: Did it happen? Voyage to the moon: Do you believe in that?,” the eloquent redhead (whose signature locks remain as punchy as her Stupid Girl years) immediately shot back, “People who think that it didn’t happen are too scared to face the truth that our lives are privileged, and we are not in control, and we have no idea of the horrors that can exist and take over our happy sense of security …it’s folly to think that it can’t and didn’t happen.” The line of questioning was sparked when Manson, whose rise to fame came in 1995 with her band Garbage, launched into a thought about “the pressures of Facebook and social media outlets,  people are very scared to be in disagreement with anything, you’ve just got a whole generation of people who are pretending they love everything. Nobody wants to speak out because they’re scared of the force of people’s shock. I’m not talking about politics, I’m talking about like, 'What do you think of Beyonce and her sudden sexualization?' and everyone’s like 'Whoa whoa, did she just bring up the subject of Beyonce and her sexuality?' "

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3. Beard, the revered documentarian of African wildlife (as well as glossy fashion spreads on his farm in Kenya), has some pretty noble-savage takes on humanity. “I’m not a photographer. I’m an escapist,” he said in a panel with Kebede that focused on the oldest inhabited continent. However, Beard long has been vocal about his long-standing home (he’s lived in Africa for some 40 years), “because it’s true, it’s truthful. We’re basically liars, right? We’re polluting the world, and we’re lying about it. We’ve eliminated our wildlife, except for discos.” Internationally famous for his large-scale portraits of elephants — many of them deceased — Beard conveyed a rather ominous opinion: “Elephants are the closest animal to us. The entire ecology of the elephants are closer to us than any other animal, and my one little message is, ‘we’re next.’ ”

4. Ferrara, whose latest film Welcome to New York just released at Cannes, has remained outside the studio system enough to bring his rough and sardonic sensibilities to the silver screen — which, as revealed by his panel discussion, stems from his personal experiences. Childhood is deeply engrained within us all, but as Ferrara divulged, “the first film I saw was Bambi, the Disney movie. It scared the shit out of me."

5. He’s best known for a line of luxury jewelry, but Ahluwalia actually sees it as a philanthropic ends to a means. Both on his panel as well as in personal conversation, the Wes Anderson muse (most recently seen in The Grand Budapest Hotel) discussed craftsmanship in the globalized age. His own line, House of Waris, collaborated with Forevermark on an ethically produced diamond collection. Said Ahluwalia, “Whether you support a local farm or you buy your lettuce, from a local farmer in Upstate New York, you’re supporting a way of life.”