'The Pavilion' by Current Student Baris Gokturk Installed in Butler Library

Audrey Deng
October 18, 2019

The Pavilion, a four-panel mural by current Baris Gokturk, is currently being installed in Columbia University’s Butler Library (Rooms 211 and 602). The work is based on Professor Zeynep Celiks book Displaying the Orient: Architecture of Islam at Nineteenth-Century World's Fairs.

The mural was commissioned by Columbia University Libraries as part of the “Performing the Library Project” organized by Nancy Friedland. This project, which began in 2016, is a multi-year collaboration between the students in the School of the Arts and Butler Library which pushes the boundaries of traditional scholarship. Each year, the projects change focus by featuring diverse and personal performances from students, “Performing the Library” animates and brings new life to the stacks of Butler Library.

This year, The Pavillion will launch the interdisciplinary series. The mural, dark and massive, almost seems symmetrical, but is not. Two human figures bookend the left and right edges of the mural, and between them are two shadowy ladders. When discussing what this mural depicts, Gokturk said, “The Pavilion recomposes and reimagines a kaleidoscopic space assembled by fragments of the different displays Ottoman Empire chose to represent itself over the course of international expositions in the nineteenth century from Chicago to Paris.” These international expositions are known as World Fairs, in which countries present themselves to other countries. This mural assembles a collage of what the Ottoman had exhibited to the Western audience. In these world exhibits the Ottoman Empire had the tendency, Gokturk says, to “self-exoticize by adapting Orientalist stereotypes.”

Gokturk is is a Turkish artist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. While growing up in Turkey, he attended the Galatasaray High School, a historical institution whose modern roots go back to the nineteenth century Westernizing efforts of the Ottoman Empire repurposing the school with the mission of producing west-leaning statesmen and diplomats. According to Gokturk, “The questions of identity, both personal and socio-cultural, revolving around the East-West axis have since been a part of my intellectual and artistic processing of the world, its history and my place in it.”

Gokturk currently teaches at John Hopkins University, Pace University and Hunter College where he got his MFA in Painting. He is the recipient of Tony Smith Award and Graf Travel Grant from Hunter College. He has shown his work internationally in US, Germany, Spain, France, Korea, Turkey and Puerto Rico.

Gokturk’s mural will be inaugurated at Butler Library with a discussion on where and how scholarly and artistic practices merge and diverge, situating the artwork in the broader context of Orientalism. The title of the panel is The Artist’s Eye, The Historian’s Gaze: Ottoman Pavilions at World’s Fairs. This panel discussion will take place between professors Zeynep Celik, A. Tunç Şen, visual arts chair Matthew Buckingham and Holger A. Klein, director of The Sakıp Sabancı Center for Turkish Studies. Visitors can see the mural after Oct. 23 in Butler Library (Room 211).