Orhan Pamuk: The Art of Fiction – In the Museum

Stories of individuals are much better suited to dis­playing the depths of our humanity than large, national museums, according to Orhan Pamuk. This seminar explores the author's museum vision in conjunction with our exhibition "Orhan Pamuk: The Art of Fiction". The program features international scholars within museology, cultural studies, and other subjects. 

Foto: Innocence Founration / Refik Anadol
Photo: Innocence Foundation /Refik Anadol

In his 2008 novel The Museum of Innocence, Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk argues for the small and personalized museum. Our seminar seeks to explore the background for his literary and artistic venture into museums, and presents fresh research on how the Istanbul museum can be read and is actually experienced and received by its visitors. We further contextualize Pamuk’s vision of museums within both the Turkish and European museum landscape, and discuss critically his plea for museums telling the stories of individuals. What experience and insight can the small museum offer? The seminar is organized in cooperation with The Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo.

“In every novel and museum […] the most delicate and entertaining question is the distinction between what is real and what is fiction.”     Orhan Pamuk


08:45    Registration and coffee

09:00    Greeting from Museum Director Håkon Glørstad, Museum of Cultural Heritage, University of Oslo

09:05    Professor Brita Brenna, University of Oslo: Introduction to the seminar

09:20    Short video address from Orhan Pamuk on the Oslo exhibition and seminar

09:30    Curator Selene Wendt, The Global Art Project: ORHAN PAMUK: THE ART OF FICTION

10:00    Professor Bernt Brendemoen, University of Oslo: THE ROLE OF THE MUSEUM OF INNOCENCE IN THE LITERARY OEUVRE OF ORHAN PAMUK

             Discussion and coffee break

11:00    Associate Professor Björn Magnusson Staaf, Lund University: CITY HISTORY AND FICTION – STUDYING THE MUSEUM OF INNOCENCE AND ITS VISITORS

11:30    Associate Professor Ulrike Spring and Professor Johan Schimanski: THE MUSEUM OF TRANSNATIONAL LITERATURE

             Discussion and lunch break.

13:15    Research Associate Gönül Bozoğlu, Newcastle University:


13:45    Professor Christopher Whitehead, Newcastle University and University of Oslo: MUSEUMS OF EXPERIENCE: STORIES OF PLACES AND LIVES IN EUROPEAN MUSEUM PRACTICE

             Discussion and coffee break

14:45    Professor Mari Lending, Oslo School of Architecture and Design: THE SMALL MUSEUM: IDIOSYNCRACY AND SENTIMENTALITY

15:15    Discussion and conclusions

16:00    SUMMING UP – Professor Gro Ween and Professor Brita Brenna

16:30    Closing of the seminar


The seminar is now fully booked. For questions, please contact martin.hager-saltnes@khm.uio.no, +47 97 19 25 35.


Pamuk’s call – in his 2012 Manifesto for Museums - for human, everyday, ordinary stories in museums, can be seen as a reaction to some dominant forms of museum history in Turkey. These glorify the nation in different ways: by showcasing military victories and conquest that demonstrate Turkish fortitude; or by promoting a hagiographic cult of Atatürk as the ‘Father’ of modern Turkey. State actors, such as the administration and the military, invest heavily in the promotion and reproduction of these historical stories, which also figure conspicuously in political discourse. Such histories are both nostalgic and emblematic. They are encoded with values that visitors are explicitly invited to adopt, such as courage, determination, self-sacrifice and high purpose. I explore this through the analysis of the Panorama 1453 Museum and the Atatürk and Wars of Independence Museum. These museums present official histories of glorious success – the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople and Atatürk’s reforms – that construct exemplary Turkish identities. These are, it could be argued, as much a fiction as the story presented at Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence, which is also exemplary of Tukish identity issues, but is mundane and inglorious. This throws into relief the politics of representing the past in Turkey and the tensions that emerge in reframing its meaningfulness.

The role and importance of material objects in Orhan Pamuk’s works show an increasing development from his first novels onwards, culminating in The Museum of Innocence (2008). Especially in The Black Book (1990), rooms and other scenes are meticulously described down to the tiniest details; in this respect Pamuk has used French 19th century authors such as Balzac and Flaubert as models, not to speak of Marcel Proust. In The Black Book, objects also may have an esoteric function, pointing to something beyond themselves. Besides, the theme ”collectors and collections” plays a more and more important role in his novels, e.g. My Name is Red (1998) can be read as a novel about the Sultan’s collection of miniature paintings, since it contains descriptions of a lot of the paintings still found in the library of Topkapı Palace in Istanbul. At the same time, both The Black Book and My Name is Red are in themselves collections of Islamic stories and tales; in The Black Book stories about the search for one’s beloved, and in My Name is Red, stories about art and painting. The collector as such plays an important role in the autobiographical Istanbul – Memories and the City (2003), where the author draws a parallel between the collector and the writer of encyclopaedias, and also writers in general. And all the objects Pamuk tells that he has collected during his nightly walks through the city in his youth, actually play an important role in The Museum of Innocence (2008), and also in the museum which is based in the book or, if we believe the author, which the book is based on.

            Another aspect I would like to take up in my contribution, is whether The Museum of Innocence has an underlying or hidden message, or if it is just an entertaining and elegantly conceived love story with an astonishing ending. In order to do that, I shall speak of the ”messages” in  Pamuk’s earlier books, one of which has to do with the possibility for a person to attain a pure personality, liberated from exterior influences, and the possible advantages such a pure personality would have. This same question also applies to culture: Would it be an advantage to have a pure Turkish (or Norwegian) culture, and would it at all be possible to find it? These are questions that are not clearly addressed in The Museum of Innocence. I think, however, that we can find a clue for an interpretation of The Museum of Innocence if we look at the two novels Pamuk wrote subsequently, i.e. The Strangeness in My Mind (2014) and The Red-Haired Woman (2016).

Drawing on the writings of novelists such as Marcel Proust and Vladimir Nabokov, Mari Lending looks into Orhan Pamuk’s dichotomizing of what he calls small versus state museums, and the ways in which idiosyncrasy and sentimentality might help us understand modern forms of collecting and display.

Associate Professors Ulrike Spring and Johan Schimanski: THE MUSEUM OF TRANSNATIONAL LITERATURE
After the ascendancy of the national, in a world in which the transnational has become more apparent in both daily life, politics, and culture, the transnational has increasingly been ascribed to authors and to literature as an important value. How do literary museums and literary exhibition practices present the transnational in the biographies of authors and in their literary works? Do author museums and especially author house museums present specific challenges where transnationality and mobility are concerned, often being situated in a particular, fixed place? Can we find transnationalities already in museums on nationally canonized authors, for example when their global reception is emphasized, or is this just one of the strategies of national discourse? Have other forms of literary exhibition evolved in order to show for example narratives of travel, exile and migration? Pamuk’s novel-museum The Museum of Innocence presents a dominantly national space, focusing on the life of national elites in the iconic Turkish city of Istanbul. Yet its objects point to a markedly transnational theme in their lives, the importation and imitation of “Western” cultural forms, sexual mores and commodities. In our lecture we will also be examining transnational author museums such as the August Strindberg museum in the Upper Austrian village of Saxen and the Mor Ōgai (森鴎外) flat museum in Berlin, both with their counterparts in Sweden and Japan, or the W. H. Auden house museum in the Lower Austrian village of Kirchstetten, all examples where museums themselves are placed outside of their national contexts.

The fictional and the authentic are intimately intertwined at the Museum of Innocence. It is a museum over a fictive love story, but one could also say that the museum at the same tim functions as a city museum related to the recent past of Istanbul. A number of visitors also use the novel and the museum as guides when exploring Istanbul. The main focus of the research project “The Museum of Innocence and the Construction of Memories” has been to study how visitors perceive and experience the Museum of Innocence. A further has been to study in what different ways both the museum and the novel help to construct cultural memories and trigger communicative memories in relation to the city of Istanbul, and in what ways the museum and the novel create a framework for the structuring of these different types of memories.

Selene Wendt’s lecture will focus on the importance of Orhan Pamuk as a visual artist, highlighting how his role as a collector has had a tremendous impact on both is writing and his art. She will discuss the significance of Orhan Pamuk’s notebooks filled with texts, sketches, and watercolors as an integral part of his creative process. An in-depth analysis of the vitrines from The Museum of Innocence will highlight the factors that transform the objects Pamuk collects into art. The intricate relationship between the novel and the museum will be addressed through a comparative analysis between the vitrines and their corresponding chapters from the novel. The balance between fiction and reality is emphasized throughout, as is the significance of innocence, and the magic of objects. Anchoring the lecture within an art historical framework, she will also analyze the direct links between the vitrines and Dutch 16th and 17th century vanitas painting, as well as the similarity to Joseph Cornell’s shadow boxes, ultimately revealing the ways in which Orhan Pamuk has extended beyond the boundaries of both literature and art.

This paper explores the recent trend within European museums to narrate the stories of 'ordinary people' (sometimes fictional ones) in order to represent place histories, particularly in city, maritime, slavery and migration museums. Encounters with musealized individuals, real or not, provide visitors with opportunities for identification, empathetic response and understandings of the ways in which global and local social, political and economic conditions affect people’s lives and are refracted in their experiences. In many museums these opportunities are allied to civic missions that aim to transform people’s views of their place in the world, and also to promote understandings that not everyone is equally able to thrive. This prompts some critical questions for museums to explore: what does it mean to live in time and place, at specific geohistorical junctures; how does this relate to constant features of the human condition (assuming they exist) that allow us to make emotional connections over time and place; and how and why should these issues be represented? The purpose of this is firstly to explore the new currency in museums of the individual life as a carrier of stories and meanings, and, secondly, to take seriously the political, intellectual and ethical consequences of Pamuk’s appeal to adopt this as a mode of museum historiography.


Gönül Bozoğlu has a background in Art History, Archaeology and Museum Studies, with experience of working in museums in the UK and on archaeological excavations in Turkey and the Middle East. She works on a number of projects related to European and Turkish heritages, and their interrelations. She is completing an extensive study of Neo-Ottoman and Kemalist nostalgias in museums and public cultures, focusing on memory, emotion and identity. Alongside this, she is conducting community-based research in Istanbul and Athens relating to people’s understandings, memories and engagements with the Land Walls of Constantinople/Istanbul.

Bernt Brendemoen is a professor of Turcology at Oslo University, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages. His work has focused on Turkish dialectology and historical linguistics. He has written a monography on the Turkish dialects of the Eastern Black Sea Coast of Turkey: The Turkish Dialects of Trabzon: Their Phonology and Historical Development (2 vols., Harrassowitz, 2002), and numerous articles on linguistic matters. He has translated five of Orhan Pamuk’s novels into Norwegian and has written several articles on Pamuk’s authorship.

Brita Brenna is professor of museology at Institute for Culture Studies and Oriental Languages at University of Oslo. Her research interests are collection history and the history of knowledge connected to museums and collections, as well as the history of exhibitions and exhibition technologies.

Mari Lending is a professor of architectural history and theory at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design. Lending has published widely on literature, architecture and art, and her latest books are Plaster Monuments: Architecture and the Power of Reproduction (Princeton University Press, 2017), and, with Peter Zumthor, a Feeling of History (Zürich: Scheidegger&Spiess, 2017).

Ulrike Spring is Associate Professor of Modern European History at the University of Oslo and Professor II at the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences. Her research focuses on 19th century Central and Northern European and Arctic history, especially the history of touristic and scientific travel, and on museums. She leads the Research Council of Norway-financed project TRAUM – Transforming Author Museums. She has previously worked at Wien Museum in Vienna, among other things as project leader and co-curator for exhibitions on H. C. Andersen’s travels to Vienna, and the new permanent exhibition in Mozart’s flat. Her most recent publications include Expeditions as Experiments: Practising Observation and Documentation (Palgrave Macmillan 2016), co-edited with Marianne Klemun.

Johan Schimanski is Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Oslo and Professor II at the University of Eastern Finland. His research focuses on borders in literature, migration literature and the literary reception of the Arctic. He co-manages the Research Council of Norway-financed project TRAUM – Transforming Author Museums, and has previously lead the similarly financed Border Aesthetics and a working package in the major EU research project EUBORDERSCAPES. His most recent publications include Border Aesthetics: Concepts and Intersections (Berghahn 2017), co-edited with Stephen F. Wolfe.

Björn Magnusson Staaf is assistant professor and in charge of museology at Lund university. He received a Master of Arts degree in archaeology at UCLA in 1987, and a Ph.D degree at Lund university 1996. His interests of research has a rather broad spectrum; museology, heritage management, early technological development (copper metallurgy), settlement archaeology (both pre-historic and historic), as well as in architectural history (19th – 20th century). Staaf has done research on The Museum of Innocence in Istanbul in 2016-2017.

Selene Wendt is an independent curator, writer, and founder of The Global Art Project, which was created to promote international contemporary art across geographical borders. She has a Master’s degree in Art History from The University of Chicago and was Chief Curator at Henie Onstad Kunstsenter and Director and Chief Curator at The Stenersen Museum. She has curated many international exhibitions, each with accompanying publications. Most recent projects and exhibitions include Orhan Pamuk: The Art of Fiction for The Museum of Cultural History, Oslo; The Art of Storytelling for Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Most recent essays include The Koran in Contemporary Art for the Norwegian journal Samtiden, and The Stories That Need to Be Told: 56th Venice Biennale for the current issue of NKA Journal of Contemporary African Art.

Gro Ween (D.Phil. Oxon) is Associate Professor at The Museum of Cultural History, Keeper of the Arctic and Australian collections, and Head Department of Ethnography, Numismatics, Antiquities and University History. Ween has done fieldwork in Aboriginal Australia, Yupic Alaska, in Nunavut and in Sapmi. Her fieldworks concerns classic themes such as land rights, natural resource management, human-animal relations, identity politics,  but also range of heritage related issues. Her theoretical orientations are towards gender theory and material semiotics. Among her latest publications are the edited volume 'Domestication Gone Wild..' (Duke) edited with Marianne Lien and Heather Swanson,  and the special issue on' Vikinger and Virkninger' with Hege Gjerde (Primitive Tider), commemorating the Viking Era exhibition at the Cultural History Museum.

Christopher Whitehead is Professor of Museology at Newcastle University and Professor II at the University of Oslo. He trained and worked as an art historian and art curator. His books include The National Art Museum in 19th-Century Art Britain (2005), Museums and the Construction of Disciplines (2009), Interpreting Art in Museums and Galleries (2011), Placing Migration in European Museums (2012) and Museums, Migration and Identity in Europe (2015). He is currently the co-ordinator of two large-scale international projects. These are CoHERE: Critical Heritages, Performing and Representing Identities in Europe and Plural Heritages of Istanbul, and is part of the scientific committee for the 2017 International Museum Day theme: ‘Museums and Contested Histories: saying the unspeakable in museums’.

Publisert 13. juni 2017 16:11 - Sist endret 13. feb. 2019 12:18