Changes in Visual Narratives in the Early Turkish Republic

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This recent two-year study of ship paintings in Turkish museum collections highlights links between written language change and changes in the presentation of visual narratives related to nation-building in the early years of the Turkish Republic.

While Turkish painters’ depictions of maritime life, ships, and sea scenes were largely based on European models throughout the period of the Ottoman Empire, a nearly systematic change appears in paintings of ships during the early period of the Turkish Republic. At the same period during which the Turkish language in its written form was completely revamped to be read as Latin characters, from left to right, as opposed to in Arabic script, right to left, narrative clues in paintings of the same period suggest that paintings, too, reflected this change, and began to be “read” from left to right. Efrat Biberman has explained that visual representations always contain “visual” and “narrative” aspects. The “visual” aspect of painting allows “a simultaneous observation of it, in which the painting is spread out in front of the viewer and she can see it fully,” while the “narrative” aspect “assumes that a temporal sequence can be attributed to a picture despite its being viewed at a single point in time.” Using examples from several collections of maritime paintings in Istanbul museums, as well as Ottoman paintings from earlier periods, this paper points to some of the visual indications that, during a period of rapid change, as the way script was read transformed virtually overnight, so did the way paintings were read.

Finally, the paper broadens its initial scope to discuss the transformation of “narrative” readings of urban space implied by more recent rapid changes in Istanbul’s visual field, including public art and public transportation structures.


Keywords: Language Change, Nation Building, Narrative, Painting, Visual Arts, Maritime Arts, Turkey
Stream: Aesthetics, Design , Language, Linguistics , Immigration, Refugees, Race, Nation
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: , Reading Turkish Maritime Painting: Changes in Visual Narratives in the Early Turkish Republic, , , ,


Dr. Joshua Parker

Assistant Professor, English Language and Literature, Fatih University
Istanbul, Turkey

Joshua Parker completed his doctoral dissertation on narrative theory at the University of Paris, and now teaches on literary theory and the American novel at Fatih University in Istanbul. Current projects include research on American fiction set in European Capitals from 1850 to the present.

Ref: H08P0348