Art & Community for an Expat in Istanbul

Julie Upmeyer, a GV alumna, creates art, community & a home as an expat in Istanbul. 

Being an artist itself requires a fair bit of creativity and flexibility when forming a sustainable life, and doing so in another country compounds the possibilities and potential. I was first invited to Istanbul as part of a one-month artist residency program to learn about the Istanbul art scene, about Turkey, and to create some new artwork. Impressed by the many formal and informal festivals, art events, initiatives, and artists’ projects happening in the city, I decided to stay for a few years. I’ve ended up living here for nine! It is home in the sense that I’ve built my life here; friends, connections, my own art space, and now my art studio.

With a friend, I initiated an art space here in Istanbul, Caravansarai, which ran for five years. Our building housed artist studios, bedrooms, meeting and production space, in which we organized performances, workshops, and ran an artist in residency program, which hosted over 40 artists from all parts of the world. At the same time I was making artwork, which now since our space is closed, I am doing full time.

I’ve been reading lately about the differing attitudes towards polymaths as opposed to a jack-of-all-trades. Polymaths are perceived as geniuses, reminiscent of Renaissance individuals that excelled in the arts, philosophy, engineering, chemistry, etc. etc. Modern-day polymaths are often considered scattered, the phrase “jack-of-all-trades….master of none” unfortunately comes to mind.

Observing educational philosophies here in Turkey, as well as in other countries throughout the world, I have a new respect for the American concept of a liberal arts education. I am grateful that in addition to my fine arts courses at GVSU I was also able to study such diverse topics as geology, tae kwon do, ethics, marketing, and the scientific revolution. This has greatly benefited my practice as an artist, as well as my life as a human being. I believe experiences from one field are certainly applicable and greatly beneficial to any other, especially for an artist.

As a sculptor and creator of three-dimensional things, I’m often frustrated that my work is generally viewed as a two-dimensional photograph, or as a zero-dimensional digital image. My current body of work is exploring just that, the mathematical and physical relationships between one, two, and three dimensions. My ability to digest math books and apply them to the creation of sculptures and other art works is a direct result of my diverse and general education. I have learned how to learn, which enables me to continue doing so now and far into the future, in whichever country I choose to live.

-By Julie Upmeyer (GV alumna)

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