Ecevit, Art, and Politics in 1950s Turkey

with Sarah-Neel Smith

hosted by Nicholas Danforth

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Although artistic production occurs in a political context, art and politics are often studied as separate fields of historical inquiry. Our guest in this episode, Dr. Sarah-Neel Smith, offers a reflection on the close relationship between art and politics in Turkey through a discussion of her research on the figure of Bülent Ecevit. As a politician, Ecevit is remembered for his four stints as Prime Minister of Turkey and his prominent positions in the Republican People's Party (CHP) and later in the Democratic Left Party (DSP). Yet during the early years of his career, Ecevit was also extremely active in intellectual pursuits as a writer and art critic. In this episode, Dr. Smith explores the intellectual life of Bülent Ecevit and the link between debates about art and culture and the development of democratic politics in Turkey during the 1950s.


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Sarah-Neel Smith is Assistant Professor in the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Her work focuses on art of the modern Middle East, modernism in a global and comparative perspective, and histories of museums, exhibitions, and display. Her current book project, Art, Democracy, and the Culture of Dissent in 1950s Turkey, focuses on the intersection of art and politics in Turkey and the ways that local art galleries, painting practices, and art criticism were informed by international discourses about democracy after WWII.
Nicholas Danforth holds a Ph.D. from Georgetown University's Department of History. His research focuses on the history and historiography of modern Turkey. In addition to currently serving as senior political analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center, he is creator and editor of The Afternoon Map blog. 


Episode No. 243
Release Date: 29 April 2016
Recording Location: Washington, DC
Editing and production by Chris Gratien
Special thanks to Kara Güneş for allowing us to use the composition "Istanbul" in the intro music
Sound excerpts: Baglamamin Dugumu - Necmiye Ararat and MuzafferHarmandali - Recep Efendi, Cemal Efendi
Images and bibliography courtesy of Sarah-Neel Smith

Bülent Ecevit, 1956. Bülent & Rahşan Ecevit personal archive, Ankara. Photograph by Ulus staff photographer 

A 1953 Helikon Orchestra concert showing the musicians playing alongside paintings. From left to right, Aynan Erman, Judith Rosen, Danyal Erinç, Rosen’s husband, Bülent Arel, Rasin Arsebük, and Faruk Güvenç. Photograph reproduced from:  Bülent Ecevit, “Helikon,” Gergedan 17 (July 1988): 150–153.

Interior view of Helikon, during the group exhibition with which Helikon resumed its activities after a brief closure in 1955. Ulus, February 27, 1956.

 Visitors attend a group exhibition that opened on February 21, 1956, and that may have been the gallery’s final exhibition. Ulus, February 27, 1956.

Art reproduced in Ulus. Ecevit’s articles were frequently accompanied by documentation of artworks on view. This article is titled “The Eyüboğlu’s New Exhibition” and appeared in Ulus on April 26, 1953.


Bilsel, S.M. Can. “‘Our Anatolia’: Organicism and the Making of Humanist Culture in Turkey.” Muqarnas 24 (2007): 238.

Diren Çakmak, Forum Dergisi: 1954–1960 [Forum Magazine: 1954–1960]. Istanbul: Libra Kitapçılık ve Yayıncılık, 2010.

Clare Davies, “Arts Writing in 20th-Century Egypt.” Art Margins 2, no. 2 (2013): 19–42.

Nilüfer Öndin, Cumhuriyet’in Kültür Politikası Ve Sanat 1923–1950 [Art and Cultural Politics of the Turkish Republic, 1923–1950]. Istanbul: İnsancıl Yayınları, 2003.

Sarah-Neel Smith, "Bulent Ecevit on the Obligations of the Intellectual," Afternoon Map. 29 April 2016.

Sarah-Neel Smith, “Introduction to 'Artistic Awakening in Ankara,' 'The Artist and Politics,' and 'The Burden of the Intellectual' by Bülent Ecevit,” ARTMargins 5.1, February 2016: 108-129.

Zeynep Yasa Yaman, “1950’li Yılların Sanatsal Ortamı ve ‘Temsil’ Sorunu” [The 1950s Art World and the Problem of “Representation”]. Toplum ve Bilim 79 (Winter 1998): 94–137. 


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