Fethi Kayaalp Grand Award
Fethi Kayaalp, a retired faculty member of the Istanbul State Academy of Fine Arts, is a painter, engraver, restorer, expert museum curator and gallerist, well known in Istanbul’s art circles. In addition to being a respected workshop teacher at the Academy, which is the cornerstone of Turkish modern art, Kayaalp is a restorer who brings back damaged paintings from all periods of Turkish painting. The amount of the paintings he managed to save from vanishing with his great efforts, in a time when restoration was not even known in Turkey, explains the respect that young restorers have for him, given that they restore paintings using much more advanced technology than he did. His artistic works are concentrated in two areas; his works within a framework ranging from figurative to abstract pursuits in his paintings, and his engravings, where he shows his enthusiasm with his mastery. Undoubtedly, this is the reason why he meticulously taught stone, wood and especially metal printing for nearly 20 years at the Engraving Workshop to students who possessed an enthusiasm to learn a hard mastery. , He was appointed as a lecturer at IDGSA alongside Sabri Berkel. His works on turbot fish, which he created in a period spanning nearly forty years, form a thematic series that is clearly visible among all his engravings. For those who know Kayaalp as an artist, these engravings are the delicate work of a master. For those who know him better, these are the resounding images from Bozcaada because Fethi Kayaalp is an islander. He is from Bozcaada.
Fethi Kayaalp is the “Fethi Hodja” whom the people of Bozcaada know well and love dearly. He is the son of a small Aegean island, where its people have lived for centuries by fishing and viticulture, who studied in Istanbul and became a respected artist and teacher. For this reason, islanders, besides loving their Fethi Hodja, are also proud of him. This medium-height, broad-shouldered man with early gray hair, whose blue eyes shone behind his glasses, leaving the pier in front of his house in Poyrazliman in the 1970s and approaching the port with his boat, Poyraz, is a sight well remembered by the islanders today. He greets and chats with the islanders, some of them relatives and some childhood friends; does his shopping and gets on Poyraz to throw his fishing rod, then returns home with fish for dinner. At home, the family sits at the table set by his wife, Necmiye Hanım, whom the islanders call “fancy aunt” (this table is still in place, thankfully, and continues to host guests).
The table of the Kayaalps is one of the last sights of the old islanders. The love of Kayaalp for his islander identity which he always proudly claimed, is also one of the last representatives of the said identity. His artistry and educator identities have saved Bozcaada from what has happened to many Aegean towns since the 1960s, that is, from turning into a touristic concrete fair that has lost its historical identity.
At the end of the 1960s, academic members such as Neşet Günal, Gündüz Gökçe, Sadun Ersin, Özdemir Altan came to the island under the leadership of Kayaalp. The arrival of an urban artist community in Bozcaada at the end of their search for an untouched “lost paradise” can be considered an escape experience seen in the West in the 1960s. However, these academicians immediately mingled with the islanders and, as the islander Dilek Razlıklı perfectly describes, “one summer, professors with pipes and canvases arose in the streets of Bozcaada, and the islanders met the palette and the brush”. The academicians first build Yedievler in Sulubahçe, which is in harmony with the natural texture of the island. Over time, with the arrival of other academicians, the anti-tourism attitude, which used to be determined by the sarcastic words of “tourism, raisin”, was broken. In fact, it is not possible to define these academicians as tourists insteadthey have become permanent on the island, or rather they have become islanders. It was a common sight in Bozcaada in the 1970s to see academicians shopping in the bazaar, returning from the fish shop with their hands full, or chatting with Yakar Kaptan. If the academicians were tourists, they were part of a refined cultural tourism that respected the island. However, at the end of the mass tourism period that started in the 1980s and intensified in the following years, a very different ‘consumer’ mass came to the island; the main element of the relationship between them and the island was an appetite for instant consumption rather than a desire for permanence triggered by an excitement for discovery. However, there is another community who discovered the island and settled permanently or partially during these periods, and just as Kayaalp and his friends from the Academia did in the 1960, they did not interfere with the original texture of the island which was born from the combination of cross-breed historical and cultural traditions. On the contrary, they intended to preserve it, adapt, and integrate to it. In this context, BIFED, which was brought to life with their efforts, is also the natural successor of the movement initiated by Kayaalp and his friends.
A small anecdote about the struggle of Kayaalp and the Academics to prevent the island from turning into a cheap and kitsch resort will give a good idea of the dangers Bozcaada has been through and maybe explain why BIFED is so important. In the mid-1980s, a cooperative, of which the island’s then-mayor and some municipal employees were members, intended to build a two-hundred-house estate in one of the island’s untouched bays. However, there were close relations between the Board of Monuments and the academicians, and the academicians ensured that this intrusive bill, which would damage the texture of Bozcaada, was always returned from the board. The mayor, enraged by this repetitive situation, summoned Fethi Kayaalp, who came to the port with his boat from Poyrazliman in the evening, to his office with an excuse and attacked him. Obviously, this was revenge for the housing project that did not materialize. However, this attack on their Fethi Hodja caused anger among the islanders. The next day, the mayor was the target of a big protest from islanders, organized and led by the academicians and Kayaalp’s childhood friend Yakar Kaptan. The housing project was thus withdrawn; never to be mentioned again. However, another housing project which was also completely incompatible with the texture of the island, would be built on the island a short time later as a gift from the ANAP era.
Nevertheless, the value of the contributions of Kayaalp and his friends in many fields -from the preservation of the original architectural texture of the island, to the declaration of the island as a protected area, and to taking the first steps of a cultural tourism that is both modest and humane- is even better understood on the island today, which has been eroded by the era’s consumption-oriented touristic invasion. The seeds of BIFED’s ecological discourse, crowned with ethical concerns; were planted in the 1960s by Fethi Kayaalp and his friends from academia. Therefore, for BIFED to give the Grand Prize in the name of Fethi Kayaalp and honor him, means commemorating and honoring the numerous struggles against all attacks against Bozcaada’s cultural identity and natural texture.
Photos: Kayaalp family archive