Once a seat of a great empire, rich in history, and filled with architectural wonders, Istanbul should be on everyone’s travel list. There’s religion and secularism, art, culture, good food and music and it does all of it extremely well. In a chat with TheStyleHQ, art curator Usen Esiet takes us on a cultural journey through the back streets of Istanbul and gives us insight into their brewing contemporary art scene.

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Where did you travel from and how long was the journey?

New York. It was an 8-hour flight.

Describe the drive from the airport to your hotel in one word.

Arresting.

Tell us a bit about why you are there.

A measured mix of work and play. I work as a Social Media Analyst for one of the United Nations agencies and was in Istanbul to lead a social media training for some of our country offices in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region. But I was also curious about the contemporary art scene in Istanbul so I took some additional time off afterwards to go explore.

Favorite topic?

Undoubtedly art. Istanbul has a rich history that dates back to the Ottoman Empire (1299 – 1923) and, prior to that, the Byzantine Empire (330 – 1453). Understandably, as time goes by, there remains a growing interest in revisiting the many artistic and architectural vestiges of Turkish culture. Unfortunately, this obsession with the past tends to leave Istanbul’s pioneering contemporary art scene in the shadows.

One of my most memorable experiences was walking through İstanbul Modern, otherwise known as Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, which is located in an 8000m² dry cargo warehouse on the shores of the Bosphorus. I was absolutely floored by the magnitude of both the building and the body of work it houses. Remarkably, the works of art on display were mostly, if not all, by Turkish artists and the range of their creative expression was nothing like I had ever experienced before: architectural structures of varying dimensions that transcended both space and time and installations that integrated everything from paint and glass to stainless steel and textile; thus creating hybrid works that defy normative standards of artistic description and curatorial categorisation.

Witnessing this monumental edifice and the exhibits it contained—together, a sort of celebration of and national tribute to contemporary art—gave me hope for what could similarly be achieved in the not-too-distant future in Nigeria with regard to our cultural institutions and our level of appreciation for the production, promulgation and preservation of visual art.