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