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Gem and Craft: In Pursuit of the Artisans of Grand Bazaar

16 February 2017 – 30 November 2017
Rezan Has Museum

In the 2000s, Turkey began to attain a leading position among countries that process gold and sell it as jewelry. The most important force behind the success of the jewelry sector was the mastery of precious metal processing, an extension and consequence of the multi-layered cultural heritage Turkey possesses.

Recognized as ‘İstanbul İşi’ (Istanbul-Made or Istanbul-Style), Istanbul’s unique tradition of jewelry production is identified with the Grand Bazaar. Since the years of the Empire, the Grand Bazaar has been the heart of jewelry production outside of the palace. Masters from different part of the Empire set up shop at the hans in and around the Grand Bazaar as the main actors of this tradition flourishing outside the court. It is known that as the abode of master(y), the Grand Bazaar exported masters to France, England, and the United States and that some of the famous jewelry makers that left their imprint on the history of jewelry design were Greek and Armenian masters of Istanbul origin.

The industrialization of the jewelry executed at the Grand Bazaar and the surrounding hans took place in the 1990s. Liberal economy policies embraced in the post-1980 period marked the beginning of the transformation of artisan-based production. As the predominantly handcrafted production techniques surrendered to advancing computer technologies, the priceless and ‘unique’ jewels came to be produced by machines. During this period, roles in production were completely changed; artisans and craftsmen were replaced by mass production devices, masters by technicians, and apprentices by interns. This condition is a perfect example of the extent to which the Grand Bazaar’s vulnerability to the ripple effects of the social, economic, and political context. Transmitted from master to apprentice, the tradition of production was directly affected by the economic and social transformation of Turkey, consequently making the artisanal tradition obsolete. That being the case, how will this 555 year-long tradition continue to exist vis-à-vis technological innovations?…

Gem and Craft: In Pursuit of the Masters of Grand Bazaar is the product of the efforts to bring into view masters as the transmitters of a living tradition of unique and creative distinction and the desire to uphold this tradition. The exhibition was designed to offer a modern perspective on jewelry design by unveiling the mystery of the workshops of the last generation of masters that continue to produce using traditional techniques and contribute infinitely to the character and essence of Kapalıçarşı (Grand Bazaar) Jewelry-Production. The conceptual backbone of the exhibition, on the other hand, is based on the results of the academic research project “The Relationship between Craftsmanship, Design, and Innovation in the Context of Intangible Cultural Heritage as the Source of Creative Economy: The ‘Living Human Treasures’ of Grand Bazaar” supported by TÜBİTAK.

In the exhibition, viewers will be presented the opportunity to observe how the Ottoman production tradition is reflected in the continuum of present-day Grand Bazaar Jewelry-Production environment. The exhibition will bring to viewers the splendor of the unique pieces of jewelry crafted at the counters of the last living master of the globally renowned Grand Bazaar jewelry.