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North Texas Artists in Turkey: A Visit to Babayan Artist Residency

by Anne Bothwell 20 Jul 2010 5:05 PM

Guest blogger Sarah Jane Semrad checks in from Turkey, reporting on a little side trip she made to an artist residency located in caves. Yes, caves.


Guest blogger Sarah Jane Semrad is Executive Director of LaReunion TX. She’s also part of a group of area artists touring Turkey.

Before this trip to Turkey actually manifested, I had researched a little bit about artist residencies in the country.  Pretty much everywhere I go, I look for them to take a tour, meet with their director if possible and generally do field research.  There were a few residencies in Turkey according to the Res Artis website, but only one that coincided with our itinerary: Babayan Residency in Ibraihmpasa, Cappadocia. 

First impressions of Babayan Residency were at an evening art reception at the Seten Culture Center, located in the neighboring town of Goreme.  The reception was for artist Thanasis Baxopoulos who had arrived ten days prior.  He had heard about Babayan from the Res Artis website and was looking for time to decompress and focus on a body of photography that created a dialogue between Turkey and his home country of Greece. The two countries histories have criss-crossed and intermingled for thousands of years after all.  He works with T-max black and white film and had brought two developing reels for his processing tank plus powder chemicals.  Old school process.  Fitting, I suppose.

The next day Dallas artists Nancy Rebal, Kimberly Alexander and myself headed out to visit the residency itself and meet with its owner / director Dutch artist Willemijn Bouman.  The tiny village of Ibrahimpasa is like a story board out of the Middle Ages.  Men only in the street, women covered head to toe and looking bashfully out upstairs windows and a queer silence that only a town nestled in the caves of Cappadocia can have.  Our taxi parked and we made the short walk up a hill to the small compound.  Willemijn met us at the door and ushered us into a Turkish paradise. 

The multi-level compound wove in and out of caves, with spaces functioning as community rooms, bedrooms, painting studios and even a kitchen.  The cave dwellings are supposed to be around 2000 years old and evidence of continuous use is obvious and confounding.  The director shared with us that artists stay for a minimum of four weeks and as long as a few months.   Around forty artists from around the world apply each year to meet the February deadline and only a fraction are selected for residence by a jury made up of art historians, local townspeople and other artists. 

The residencies challenges are significant.  Each portfolio must be reviewed in depth to ensure a smooth mesh with the local townspeople, who are devout Muslims.  A code of respect as opposed to censorship permeates the jury process. The puzzle of which artists are in residence at the same time is also a challenge as painting studios are limited, for example.  Meals are on-your-own for breakfast and lunch and the director’s husband Paul cooks dinner for all residents, with all dietary restrictions honored.  Artists must be self contained and be able to problem solve all of their materials as there isn’t an art supply store for hundreds of miles. 

I left inspired for La Reunion and grateful for the opportunity to meet with the good people of Babayan Residency.  Willemijn shared she had purchased the compound for next to nothing about ten years ago and had only opened the residency in 2006 after six years of preparation.   For more information, please visit their website and please note the photos do not do it justice.  I’ll post some of mine on flickr upon our return to the United States. 

Gobble gobble.  Over and out.