Chicago-based Michael Rakowitz also exhibited a new work, The Flesh is Yours, The Bones Are Ours (2015), which expands upon the themes of a fascinating 2010 exhibition held at Istanbul Modern on the role of Armenian architects in shaping the built environment of 19th-century Istanbul. Using hundreds of plaster casts to recreate part of the workshop of Armenian craftsman Garabet Cezayirliyan, Rakowitz compares the invisible traces of the erased craftsmen to the ornamented buildings that bore silent witness to the trauma of early 20th-century events.
Rakowitz’s project also speaks of the difficulty in reconciling the Turkish national project with its treatment of minority ethnic cultures. In his exhibition, a display caption touches briefly on the story of Mimar Sinan (d. 1588), chief royal architect for three Ottoman sultans from and designer of Süleymaniye Mosque, one of Istanbul’s most famous sites. In 1935 the Turkish Historical Society apparently dug up Sinan’s body to refute rumours that he was of Armenian origin and provide conclusive proof to support the argument for Sinan as a Turkish hero and part of the cultural scaffolding for Atatürk’s burgeoning republic. Sinan’s skull was examined and declared triumphantly to be of the ‘brachycephalic Turkish race’. Shortly thereafter the skull went missing and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it has never been seen again.