Maslaha and Effusion are no strangers to the thrill of the challenge, and we have been lucky to work with some pretty awesome people along the way. We immediately set out finding the people who knew more than we did.
But first, we needed to narrow down the subject and find our storyteller who could help us to distil such an enormous and multilayered subject. Our timelines had tracked the journey of coffee and paper, showing overlapping histories and shared stories. The exhibition represented the opportunity to do that on a much bigger scale, bringing together a number of themes, people, tales of enlightenment and curiousity.
Our thoughts went back to Istanbul and the Alliance of Civilizations, which was also chosen to be one of the pilot countries for the Our Shared Europe project. And so we decided to follow in the footsteps of Evliya Celebi, the 17th Century Ottoman traveler, known to few outside Turkey, but famous to those in the know for his wit, intelligence and sense of adventure. As luck would have it, we later found out that 2011 would be the UNESCO year of Evliya Celebi – a great opportunity to bring together the celebrations of this magnificent traveler.
Having found our hero, we could embark on finding our accomplices and chums.
Martin went to Istanbul and gave a talk during which he mentioned Evliya Celebi and the plan to build the exhibition. At the end of the talk, he was approached by an excited Caroline Finkel, who talked about her work around Evliya as an Ottoman expert and the Evliya Celebi Way – an intiative with undertaken with Mac (aka Gerald MacLean) and Donna Landry to retrace the initial stages of the journey of Evliya as he travelled to perform pilgrimage to the Islamic Holy Places in the Hejaz in 1671. Caroline, Mac and Donna became mighty forces within the Evliya team, giving the exhibition an academic rigour and enlightening us with fascinating stories of the Ottomans and Evliya.
The research and development of the exhibition was also informed along the way with conversations with leading experts – including Suraiya Faroqhi, Owen Wright, and Nabil Matar.
The Creative People
One evening Raheel was watching 'The School of Saatchi' on BBC 2 and was blown away by Suki Chan – one of the six artists taking part in the series. Part of her film – Interval II – shows “a swarming flock of starlings silhouetted against the half-light like so much magically animated black ink calligraphy” (Robert Clark, artists and writer). This “hallucinatory panorama” was exactly the kind of thing the exhibition needed – to be able to translate that magic into Istanbul with its architecture and history and create an atmosphere fit for imaginations to fly.
Meanwhile, we got in contact with an old friend, Adam Williamson, who had worked with us before at art education projects for schools. Adam, a practicing artist in many mediums with a particular gift for Islamic arts, was very keen to be involved and immediately set about building two sculptures for the exhibition which would help take the visitor back to the 17th century.
With our minds soaring through ideas, we rang up the Royal Academy of Music and explained our plans to them. They told us about a 19th century piano that was made to sound like an Ottoman canon going off. They also put us in touch with Peter Sheppard Skærved. Peter had been working with Turkish musicians for a number of years, showing the relationship between European and Turkish music and how they influenced each other. He happily agreed to record some of the European music that would have been played in Vienna around the time of Evliya, including two original pieces composed with Turkish musicians.
Along the way, we also spoke to other talented and very kind people, such Mercan Dede and Emre Araci who were more than happy to share their music with us.
With the substance shaping up nicely, we were all set and ready for action! But we were about to do something new, and the thought of Raheel and Richard trying to build any kind of structure with a hammer and some nails was a bit much for us.
Luckily, Effusion brought in Emma Richeldis North – art exhibitionist extraordinaire – to curate the physical exhibition, supervise the planning and building, and manage us and our tools. Phew!