A work of love in Is­tan­bul’s mu­seum of in­no­cence and ob­ses­sion

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - TRAVEL 2013 -

ME­LANIE PETERS

IN THE an­tique dis­trict of Is­tan­bul, Çukur­cuma, there is a rare trea­sure, a work of love. Some might say its sub­ject mat­ter – ob­ses­sion – be­came tan­gi­ble and en­veloped the deep red town­house.

The build­ing, on a nar­row cob­bled street, is part mu­seum, part art in­stal­la­tion, brought to life by one of Is­tan­bul’s favourite sons, Turk­ish No­bel Lau­re­ate Orhan Pa­muk. He cre­ated the Mu­seum of In­no­cence as he penned a novel by the same name. The book was pub­lished in 2008 and the mu­seum opened last year.

The book is about the love af­fair be­tween a busi­ness­man, Ke­mal, and a poor dis­tant rel­a­tive, Fü­sun. When the two part, Ke­mal be­comes ob­sessed with find­ing her. In his search of Is­tan­bul he takes read­ers on a literary tour of the city.

In ar­ti­cles Pa­muk ex­plains that he started col­lect­ing items for the mu­seum be­fore he be­gan writ­ing the novel, and that when he wrote it, it was with this col­lec­tion in mind.

But it’s not just a study of ob­ses­sion – which is clear in in­stances such as the 4 213 cig­a­rette butts, each dated and af­fixed to a can­vas that cov­ers an en­tire wall at the en­trance or the me­men­tos of a doomed love af­fair – it’s a trip back into a chap­ter in Is­tan­bul’s his­tory at a time of cul­tural change.

The mu­seum’s web­site soft­ens my pang of guilt for I had not read the book be­fore en­ter­ing its halls. It says that it is not es­sen­tial to have read the book to en­joy the mu­seum, just as it is not nec­es­sary to have vis­ited the mu­seum to en­joy the book.

I was in­trigued by the cameos of life in this city. The au­thor de­scribed it as “a small and hum­ble mu­seum of daily life in Is­tan­bul”.

The au­dio guide en­riches the ex­pe­ri­ence and helps trans­form the care­fully cu­rated space to a by­gone era. You can hear Pa­muk’s voice in the Turk­ish com­men­tary along with some English, as well as the voices of mu­si­cian Richard Hamer and Gre­gory Nash from the Bri­tish Coun­cil.

They tell the story of each of the dis­plays. There are clothes, shoes and jew­ellery rep­re­sent­ing the fash­ion of the time, toys, ce­ramic dogs, cin­ema tick­ets, fizzy drinks bot­tles, matches, knick­nacks, news­pa­per cut­tings, trin­kets and photographs, dis­played in 83 boxes rep­re­sent­ing the novel’s 83 chap­ters.

One clip­ping drew my at­ten­tion. It con­tained pho­tos of women with black lines drawn across their eyes. Such pho­tos of women reg­u­larly ap­peared in Turk­ish news­pa­pers for be­ing con­nected to sex­ual scan­dals.

Pa­muk col­lected them from junk deal­ers, bric- a- brac shops and friends’ homes. Then he grad­u­ally be­gan to form Ke­mal and Fü­sun’s story. The big­gest ob­ject he ac­quired was the house it­self, which he turned into this mu­seum.

As I leave the mu­seum the words from the first ex­hibit “the hap­pi­est mo­ment of my life” stay with me. I leave en­thralled. I must get the book.

NOVEL: The Mu­seum of In­no­cence is not only ded­i­cated to a book of the same name but of­fers a slice of daily life in a time of cul­tural change.

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