Home Historical art An imaginary civilisation: art meets history at the Commagene Biennale

An imaginary civilisation: art meets history at the Commagene Biennale


The increase in consumption, whether materially or in abstract realms, has been hard for humans to catch up with, increasing at a rate that is hard for natural human desire to keep up with. In technological terms, for example, while we unbox a new gadget or a new mobile phone from its box, a newer version is already announced to be launched. With the advancement of lightning-fast communication tools, social changes or the implications of these social changes, across our planet, have also been extremely difficult to adopt and implement into our daily thinking.

In other words, a whole new civilization, consumer-based and arguably rapidly evolving, is being built. Compared to the previous ones, the geographical influence of the elements of this new civilization also extends throughout the world.

As the concept of civilization is reflected in the world with such evolution, the Commagene Biennale meets art lovers at the cradle of the Kingdom of Commagene, in the Kahta district of Adıyaman, which is a destination to be discovered with its historical and cultural mosaic – one of the distinguished cities of Mesopotamian geography. The area has been home to many civilizations to this day, including the Kingdom of Commagene, Hittites, Mitannis, Aramaeans, Assyrians, Late Hittites, Persians, Kummurs, Alexander the Great of Macedon, and in the near past , the Seljuks and the Ottomans.

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

Founded by Mithridates I Callinicus, who claimed to be a descendant of the King of Armenia, the Kingdom of Commagene dominated Mesopotamia and the greater Euphrates between 109 BC and 72 AD, serving as a buffer state between ancient Rome and Persia . Founded by Macedonians in a country where Persian culture reigns, Commagene has become a personification of the marriage of East and West, which is reflected in its culture. Although the people used the Greek culture, the rulers of this kingdom did not hide their admiration for the Persian, Assyrian and Armenian cultures.

The biennial presents a total of 53 works by artists from 23 countries in six monuments, located in Kahta and on an island off Nevali Çori. The island is the main venue, however, exhibits and artist installations are located across various historical sites including the magnificent Nemrut Peak, the newly renovated Kahta Castle, Karakuş Tumulus, Arsemia and Cendere Bridge. The biennial is the first in the region. In fact, apart from the summit of Nemrut, other historical sites and archaeological developments are little known. However, the impressive efforts of the Silkroad Development Agency (SDA), Adıyaman Governorate and Kahta District Governorate are signs that a new artistic wave will undoubtedly invade the region in the near future.

The place having sheltered many civilizations, the traces of this rich cultural fabric paved the way for the idea of ​​creating an “imaginary civilization” within the framework of the Biennale, by evoking the questions “Is it possible to create a new civilization in a world where even the most civilized behave in ways that are unacceptable? and “Can we wonder about the existence of other dimensions in these relationships between human and human, human and nature, gastronomy, music, architecture, archeology and the fashion ?”

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

I was swept away by each installation as we were guided by curator Nihat Özdal. In a way, each unique work gathered under the theme “an imaginative civilization” connects the chaos of the past with the current chaos in which we live. As you travel from exhibit to exhibit to view installations in a vast geographic space, your mind travels across multiple periods of art and history simultaneously.

Visiting facilities on five islands that emerged with the construction of the Atatürk Dam on the Euphrates, you will experience the blend of art and nature. As you climb a steep route of nearly one kilometer (0.62 mile), you can admire the magnificent sunrise from the summit of Nemrut, home to the Mausoleum of Antiochus I (69-34 BC). C.), the first ruler of the ancient Kingdom of Commagene, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. Here you are greeted by three installations as part of the exhibition. Kahta Castle, on the other hand, for example, houses works by Turkish and international artists in the historic structure that sits on a high cliff, offering a majestic view of the area. I must mention here that all the materials used for the exhibition and the works are natural elements and components.

The colossal stone heads of Mount Nemrut, Adıyaman, Türkiye, October 1, 2022. (Photo by Mehmet Çelik)

The colossal stone heads of Mount Nemrut, Adıyaman, Türkiye, October 1, 2022. (Photo by Mehmet Çelik)

The biennial, which started on August 20 and will run until October 20, is expected to contribute to tourism in the region, while breaking some chains in the relationship between locals and modern art. Undoubtedly, it has so far made a difference in both areas. Adıyaman Governor Mahmut Çuhadar and Kahta District Governor Selami Korkutata as well as Adıyaman Museum Director Mehmet Alkan confirmed that the number of tourists increased significantly in 2022 compared to previous years .

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