Istanbul-Armenian Artist: “There is no cultural diversity in Turkey”

Aret Geçer , an Armenian artist based in Istanbul, doesn’t let just anybody enter his studio.

The reason for the secrecy is his series of works regarding Archbishop Mesrob II Mutafyan, the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, now incapacitated due to degenerative dementia.

Only several of the numerous works are ready to be exhibited. Aret says he won’t comment as to the reasons why he’s focused on the illness plaguing Archbishop Mesrob II until the exhibition.

“Even though the works have a political significance, I wanted to free them of political and church related conceptions. I am displaying the paintings of the archbishop solely from an artistic perspective. I want people to see the art in them as the primary idea,” Aret says.

From Yerevan to Istanbul

Aret is the only Istanbul-Armenian I have met who carries himself like a Yerevan native. After studying for a year at the Lyon Art Institute, Aret went to Armenia and enrolled at the Yerevan Art Academy.

Now, he walks past the luxurious stores in Taksim Square and when he reaches a small intersection he changes direction towards his art studio which is located in a building that stands out due to its Armenian architectural design.

What can you say about the level of education at the Yerevan Art Academy?

Those with no connection to art are accepted at this school tuition free through their connections. The really worthy students are turned away. The instructional methods are also outdated. You feel that you are obtaining certain fundamental things, but they aren’t relevant to the present era.

Do you mean that there’s a lack of good teachers?

Teachers exist but they have become disgusted with the job. Except for a few exceptions, they’re only there to make extra money. You would think that non-conformist young people would be enrolled at an art school, but in Yerevan you’ll find the opposite; the most conservative. Free thinkers are in the minority.

What’s the difference if we compare Lyon, Istanbul and Yerevan in terms of art?

We can’t compare them to Lyon because that city is in a totally different time frame. Istanbul tries to have the contemporary and exhibit it. They spend tons of money on contemporary art.

Your paintings are hidden away in this room where you work. Why don’t you at least show them in your studio?

I believe there are different ways to exhibit art. It should be done at a formal exhibition. Furthermore, half of the exhibition process involves hiding the works.

Cultural diversity in Yerevan is scarce, but in Istanbul you can meet people of different cultures and religions. Does this diversity influence your art, and if so, how?

I don’t feel such diversity. It’s probably because I’ve lived here for so many years. Such great diversity doesn’t exists here. There aren’t even sub-cultures anymore. It’s all been erased. There is only one culture – the Turkish culture.

In addition to painting you’re also a cartoonist for the Agos newspaper. Can you make a living doing this?

I live an average lifestyle. Here too, artists don’t live well.

Photos: Saro Baghdasaryan

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