A Museum of the Ordinary
If you're traveling to Istanbul, be sure to stop by the Museum of Innocence, which was opened in March of 2012 and is located in a red 19th century building in the Cukurcuma neighborhood of the city. Unlike a regular museum, the Museum of Innocence does not house a collection of artistic masterpieces or objects of historical significance; rather, it is home to a collection of seemingly ordinary objects connected by their association with a 2008 novel of the same name.
What gives these objects–smoked cigarette butts, a yellow shoe, a single earring–meaning? Their association with the ordinary, fictional lives of the characters in The Museum of Innocence, a novel by Turkish author Orhan Pamuk.
The novel revolves around an ill-fated love affair between individuals of widely differing social classes. You can read an excerpt from the book in The New Yorker, which sets up the relationship between the upper-class and very engaged Kemal and his distant cousin, the shopgirl Füsun.
The book also reflects a turbulent time in Turkish history when the country hovered between traditional /div> Islamic culture and the encroaching influence of the West. Because Kemel cannot truly possess Füsun, he compulsively hoards and even steals objects that remind him of their affair. It is these objects that make up the Museum of Innocence in both the book and now on the streets of Istanbul.
Pamuk told the New York Times he conceived the novel and the museum at the same time and has spent the past 10 years hunting down the objects, numbering in the thousands, that now fill the Museum of the Innocence.
These objects are both real and manufactured. The fake designer bag that serves as the catalyst for the meeting of Kemal and Füsun was created specifically for the museum. Others–soda bottles, trading cards, photographs, china dogs—are authentic ephemera of the period.
The objects are organized as vignettes in glass display cases, each one aligning with a chapter in the book. Pamuk contributed the descriptions himself, entitling one "The Agony of Waiting" or another "What is This?".
Though it might be helpful, it is not necessary to have read the novel in order to understand the Museum, as Pamuk believes the project is more about celebrating the leftover objects of ordinary lives than about the plot. The objects and their curation are meant to evoke emotions–anxiety, happiness, and, ultimately, a sort of melancholy. But there's also something uplifting in celebrating the small things that make up a life.
“Our daily lives are honorable, and their objects should be preserved. It’s not all about the glories of the past,” Pamuk told Al Alaribya News upon the Museum's opening. “It’s the people and their objects that count.”
Pamuk's project is not yet complete. He told the New York Times that he plans to keep the lobby of his Museum open for a new exhibition by Istanbul's "broken-hearted collectors, people who collect phone cards, people who collect without the idea of the museum, just because they get attached to things." So be sure to pick up a copy of the novel from our shop and visit the museum in the future to see what's been added to this most novel museum. MT