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Istanbul has always been a destination for art and culture. It is an eclectic city that connects Europe and Asia, straddling the Bosphorus, with a rich history thanks to Roman, Latin, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires at one point calling it their capital (albeit by another name, as the song goes).
The city’s cultural relevance, however, doesn’t just lie in its past. And since 2009, Demet Muftuoglu-Eseli and Alphan Eseli have worked to present the city as an international player through Istanbul’74–a platform for events and exhibitions in Turkey, working closely with the Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism. One such platform is the Istanbul International Arts & Culture Festival (IST. Festival), dubbed this year in its fourth edition, ISTANCOOL (a hashtag-ready moniker to be sure), sponsored by W Magazine.
ISTANCOOL took place over last weekend, and included participants from around the world (including Turkey) in a series of dialogues, performances, exhibitions, and screenings. Highlights included artist JR and José Parlá in conversation with Ali Akay, Hussein Chalayan and Pamela Bolbin, Shirley Manson and Hakan Tamar, James Nares and Alphan Eseli, Liya Kebede and Peter Beard, Stefano Tonchi and Tim Walker, and Waris Ahluwalia speaking with Serdar Gülgün, Ayse Ege, and Ece Ege. [Editor’s Note: stay tuned for a more in-depth look at those talks on whitewallmag.com later this week.]
The weekend kicked off on Friday with a preview of Delfina Delettrez’s “Never Too Light” jewelry exhibition. Rings and earrings were displayed on ceramic hands and ears atop white plates that levitated above a long dining table. The jewelry designer was there, alongside Manson, Nares, Goga Ahskenazi, and Tonchi.
After the opening, guests traveled by Audi, the official transportation provider for the festival, to the sprawling Ciragan Palace Kempinski. As the sun set over the Bosphorus, attendees like JR, Parla, Chalayan, Kebede, Beard, Abel Ferrera, Aluhwalia, Armand Limnander, Robert Montgomery, Ege, Golbin, David Maupin, Caroline Koc, and Cem Hakko (may of whom stayed at Pera Palace Jumeirah) enjoyed cocktails and a dinner of salmon sashimi, risotto, and fluke en plein air beside the water, framed by an elaborate palace gate, courtesy of Cartier.
The next day marked the official opening of the free-to-the-public programming, held at VAKKO Fashion headquarters on the Asian side of Istanbul. The center opened in 2010 and was designed by REX. It boasts an auditorium, bookstore, meeting rooms, and a well-manicured lawn where a live-stream of the conversations played for guests while they lounged underneath umbrellas, eating Turkish treats like rings of sesame bread, ice cream, and cheese börek.
The evening saw the official gala for ISTANCOOL hosted by Nef at the breathtaking Marmara Esma Sultan, an historic site that’s been preserved by a glass interior. As the sky grew dark, a piece by Montgomery was performed. A structure that read “EVERYTHING IN THE CITY IS PERFECT ALL THE VOICES IN THE STREETS ARE SACRED AND MUSIC AND THE STREETS BELONG TO NO ONE” was lit on fire, left to slowly burn out as guests took photos and selfies, one even daring to light his cigarette off it (the poet approved). Prior to a seated dinner styled by Zeynep Fadillioglu, a special performance of Whirling Dervishes took place to the applause of the crowd.
For the second and final day of ISTANCOOL, programming took place between VAKKO and the Pera Museum, followed by a closing celebration on a classic wooden yacht, hosted by the Eselis, and Koc. Chilled wine and passed canapés were enjoyed as the boat chugged along the Bosphorus and docked for a traditional dinner. A successful weekend of well-attended events was toasted to many times over until the wee hours of the next day.
“With ISTANCOOL, the leading creative names of the world met with the art world in Turkey,” said Nef board member Erden Timur. The festival’s goal was to put forth what it called a “cultural mosaic.” It did just that, with artists, musicians, writers, poets, designers, journalists, filmmakers, and photographers coming together, mingling, dialoguing, and falling in love with the vibrant city of Istanbul.