Pamuk opens his museum

Orhan Pamuk, Turkey's Nobel laureate in literature, will open his long-awaited Museum of Innocence ( next week. Located in Istanbul's Çukurcuma neighbourhood, famous for its second-hand and antique shops, the building presents hundreds of objects "collected" by Pamuk's fictional character Kemal from his most recent novel, The Museum of Innocence. After the death of his lover, Fusun, Kemal obsessively collects objects that describe and define both her and an Istanbul that has long perished. The building housing the museum purports to be Fusun's family home, later acquired by Kemal so that he can spend the rest of his life among their shared memories.

A result of Pamuk's meticulous efforts over the last decade, the museum presents its objects in 83 different cabinets, corresponding to the novel's 83 chapters. In the entrance hall, visitors are greeted by the image of a large spiral, representing Aristotle's concept of time, which the novel devotes many pages to describing. A massive panel filled with 4,213 cigarette butts, supposedly smoked by Fusun, is placed on one wall. Many cabinets feature video and sound installations depicting 1950s Istanbul. But the place is decisively not a museum of the city: many newspaper clippings, ads and "historic" photographs have been fabricated to represent specific characters and scenes from the novel and are by no means authentic objects.

Pamuk worked with several curators and young Turkish artists to find a way of realising the project, which he had in mind ever since the 1990s, when he bought the house. He has filled it with many surprises for his readers, including fictional obituaries of characters from his previous novels The Black Book, The New Life and The Silent House (which will appear in English later this year) and some of his own personal photographs. Glasses of raki, plates of half-eaten boreks and other local curiosities are also on display. Finally, visitors can see Kemal's bedroom as well as the original manuscript of the novel.

There are many galleries and museums in the surrounding neighbourhoods, but I have never seen anything like the Museum of Innocence - the realisation of a truly original idea.

This article was published in The Guardian on April 21, 2012.

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