It was seeing Peter Tirpak’s painting of Andy Warhol on Instagram that made me realise three new exhibitions recently opened at Pera Museum. Seeing the pioneer of pop art Andy Warhol appear in a Byzantine themed exhibition intrigued me to say the least. The ‘What Byzantinism is this in Istanbul?’ exhibition opened simultaneously with ‘From Istanbul to Byzantium’; another exhibition on Byzantine research and collections.

As the name suggests, ‘What Byzantinism is this in Istanbul?: Byzantium in Popular Culture’ deals with the reflections and representations of Byzantine figures in popular culture. Curated by Emir Alışık, the exhibition features work by more than 50 artists, writers, illustrators, musicians, filmmakers, and fashion designers. The exhibition takes its name from Panorama I-II, Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu’s famous novel, which describes the social and political turmoil of the post-World War II years in Turkey. The main character’s expression “What Byzantinism is this?” is a reaction to the post-war social dynamics of Turkey; a criticism of how society gives into blind superstitions as a repsonse to the growing cultural divides and social identity crisis. From video games to comics, cinema to literature, music and fashion, the exhibition features a diverse portfolio of work with a focus on Byzantium. At the main entrance to the exhibition area, you are welcomed by a huge LED chandelier lit in blue and violet. On the opposite wall you see modern reinterpretations of mosaic art featuring household names such as Andy Warhol, Mark Zuckerberg and Yoda. Seeing depictions of modern figures made using ancient artistic techniques is truly compelling. Wandering around the hall, you can expect to come across a Batman figure perched on top of a mosque in Constantinople, Suat Yalaz’s Karaoğlan comics, Özgür Masur’s Byzantine’20, a clothing collection inspired by Byzantine Istanbul, and illustrator-designer Necdet Yılmaz’s interpretation of Hagia Sophia’s famous resident cat Gli among others.

Another must-see exhibition at Pera Museum is ‘Notes for Tomorrow’, a series on the current state of cultural changes triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the output of a collaboration of 30 curators from 25 countries. Following USA, Canada and China, this is the fourth stop of the travelling exhibition organised by Independent Curators International (ICI). The exhibition aims to provide visitors with a global experience and help construct a collective memory. Most of the work questions the state of the world at the height of anxiety and insecurity caused by the pandemic. White and spaced out, the layout and design of the exhibition space clearly intends to emphasise the loneliness and isolation of the process. The sense of isolation also applies to the works of art.

It is quite a unique experience to see two different concepts like Byzantine history and the pandemic in the same building.

If one of your New Year resolutions is to see more exhibitions, you can start from Pera Museum. ‘What Byzantinism is this in Istanbul?’, “From Istanbul to Byzantium” and “Notes for Tomorrow” will be open until 6 March 2022.