Imaginary Civilization: Art Meets History at the Commagene Biennale

The increase in consumption, whether material or in abstract realms, is a challenge for humans to catch up, increasing at a rate hard to keep up with natural human desire. From a technological point of view, for example, by the time we unpack a new gadget or a new mobile phone from the box, it has already been announced that a newer version will be released. With the advancement of communication tools at super-fast speed, social changes or the consequences of these social changes on our planet have also been extremely difficult to perceive and apply in our daily thinking.

In other words, a brand new consumption-based and perhaps fast-growing civilization is being built. Compared to the previous ones, the geographical influence of the elements in this new civilization also spread across the globe.

While the concept of civilization is reflected in the world with such an evolution, the Commagene Biennale meets art lovers in the cradle of the Kingdom of Commagene, in the Kahta district of Adiyaman, a destination waiting to be discovered with its historical and cultural mosaic – one of the most famous cities in Mesopotamian geography. The region has hosted many civilizations to date, including the Komagene Kingdom, Hittites, Mitannis, Arameans, Assyrians, Late Hittites, Persians, Cumuri, Alexander the Great of Macedonia, and in the recent past, including the Seljuks and Ottomans.

Sunrise on Mount Nemrut as people try to capture the unique moment, Adıyaman, Türkiye, October 1, 2022. (Photo by Mehmet Çelik)

Founded by Mithridates I Callinicus, who claimed descent from the king of Armenia, the Kingdom of Commagene dominated Mesopotamia and the greater Euphrates between 109 BC and AD 72, serving as a buffer state between ancient Rome and Persia. Founded by Macedonians in a land where Persian culture reigned, Commagene became the embodiment of the marriage between East and West, which can be seen in its culture. Although the people used Greek culture, the rulers of this kingdom did not hide their admiration for Persian, Assyrian and Armenian culture.

The biennale presents a total of 53 works of art by artists from 23 countries in six landmarks located in Kakhta and on an island located off Nevali Kori. The island is the main location, but the artists’ exhibitions and installations are located at various historical landmarks, including the magnificent Mount Nemrut, the recently renovated Kahta Castle, the Karakush Mound, Arsemia and the Sendere Bridge. The biennial is the first in the region. In fact, apart from the Nemrut summit, other historical sites and archaeological developments are not very well known. However, the impressive efforts of the Silkroad Development Agency (SDA), Adiyaman Province and Kahta Province are signs that no doubt a new wave of art will take over the region in the near future.

As the site has been home to many civilizations, traces of this rich cultural fabric paved the way for the idea of ​​creating an “imagined civilization” within the Biennale, provoking the questions “Is it possible to create a new civilization in a world where even the most civilized exhibit unacceptable behavior?” and “Can we contemplate the existence of other dimensions in these relationships between man and man, man and nature, gastronomy, music, architecture, archeology and fashion?”

“Dancing Figures”, by Rumen Dimitrov, an installation made of wood and branches, Adıyaman, Türkiye, October 1, 2022. (Photo: Mehmet Çelik)

I was captivated by each installation as we were guided by curator Nihat Jozdal. In some way, each unique work gathered under the theme of “an imagined civilization” connects the chaos of the past with the current chaos in which we live. As you travel from one exhibit to another to see the installations across a large geographic area, your mind simultaneously travels through several time periods of art and history.

As you visit installations on five islands that came to the surface with the construction of the Atatürk Dam on the Euphrates River, you experience the blending of art with nature. As you climb a steep, almost 1 kilometer (0.62 mi) route to watch the magnificent sunrise from the top of Nemrut, home to the mausoleum of Antiochus I (69–34 BC), the first ruler of the ancient kingdom of Commagene, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. Three installations welcome you here as part of the exhibition. Kahta Castle, on the other hand, for example, is home to works by Turkish and international artists in the remarkable structure that sits on a high cliff, presenting a majestic view of the region. I should note here that all the materials used for the exhibition and the works are natural elements and components.

The colossal stone heads of Mount Nemrut, Adiyaman, Turkey, Oct.  1, 2022 (Photo by Mehmet Celik)

The colossal stone heads of Mount Nemrut, Adiyaman, Turkey, Oct. 1, 2022 (Photo by Mehmet Celik)

The biennale, which began on August 20 and will run until October 20, is expected to boost tourism in the region while breaking some chains in the relationship between locals and modern art. Undoubtedly, by now it has mattered in both areas. Both Adiyaman Governor Mahmut Çuhadar, Kahta District Governor Selami Korkutatta, and Adiyaman Museum Director Mehmet Alkan confirmed that the number of tourists has dramatically increased in 2022 compared to previous years.

The Sabah Daily Bulletin

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