Pilevneli Mural Graces Turkish-American Room
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A mural by Mustafa Pilevneli, installed in the Turkish-American Friendship Room at the Shapiro Library, was dedicated on October 29, 1995 at a reception attended by distinguished guests including Turkish Counsul General Temucin Arbak. The series of events included an exhibition of the artists lithographs at the Rackham East Gallery. The events were supported by the International Institute and the Turkish Studies Colloquium of CEMENAS, which acknowledges the generous efforts of Elizabeth Barlow, Ann Larimore, Sumer Pek, Tumer and Fayza Sayman and members of the Turkish-American Cultural Association of Michigan.
Explosion, popping opening — recurrent in Mustafa Pilevnelis comments about his bas-relief mural are words suggesting vigor, strength, spontaneity, responsiveness. An action provokes not a reaction but a series of reactions, for the growth of an idea is exponential rather than linear.
And Pilevnelis work is at heart an idea. While clearly modern, the figurative representation reminds one immediately of the formal beauty of trees. As noted by the artist, the design grew out of a photograph of the trees framed in the window. Through the interaction of light, water and nutrients, these trees extend branches and sprout new leaves, and thus provide much of the form and color of the universitys most accessible visual composition. Barren of leaves, the oblique, branching lines of white plaster impression reflect the outside light. Using color and light as primary tools, Pilevneli has chosen his materials and executed his plan to integrate this space with the architectual landscape.
The Turkish-American Friendship Room in the Shapiro Undergraduate Library is a medium-size conference room with a northern exposure. The bay window of the north wall opens onto the lawn and trees enclosed by the diagonal walkway, the Physics, Natural Resources and Chemistry Buildings, and in the distance, the Rackham Building. The room thus surveys the Romanesque, the neo-classical and the contemporary as well as the natural in the center of the campus.
One might be inclined to view the installations as trees symbolizing growth, but the design recalls more specifically the upward and outward branching of trees. The tree is unitary, but branches diverge, point in different directions and continue. While the symbolism of the tree is the impetus for Pilevnelis concept, the real interest here is the growth of thought and the social change which follows. Pilevnelis exercise in creative reflexivity provides only the architectural frame for the interaction of light and the imagination. It is a work-in-process.
The pleasure of form, because it teases the imagination, provokes thought. Perhaps contrary to the purposes of a conference room, the dual panels invite observers to daydream — to look up during a talk, to gaze out the window and see the trees, bare branches against a gray sky or covered in white, green or reds, yellows and browns — and then to return to the interior and remember thought, the way it proceeds through chance associations and diversions. And the interconnectedness of the branches reminds one that thought is both private and social. It occurs in writing, in reading, and in meetings. The cultivation of ideas into knowledge is the work of the university and the goal of this installation. Hanging quietly in the library, it participates in the creation of knowledge, the scholarship and technology which change our environments.
Pilevneli points out the panels that mirror one another without being identical. Likewise with friendship. Each party accepts differences within the other. Equality is the basis of the affinity between these panels but the difference in each produces reflections of light, of branching, of thought and of change, so the viewers imaginative space expands constantly.
To inaugurate a room in the name of Turkish-American friendship is to emphasize the bonds between Turks and Americans as people with complementary ideas, ideals, techniques, and sciences. Turkish contributions to American medicine, engineering, cinema, music, social science and humanities are evident. Many prominent contributors have studied in the reading rooms and laboratories of the University.
The mural and the room reinforce these bonds of friendship, a friendship based on equality, not on power or domination. Each respects the other without losing the distinctions of the self. Friendship between countries is of a different order from that between individuals. States bear arms, enter into treaties and alliances and so on. The panels suggest an ideal of friendship in which equality and peace really do exist.
John Crofoot is Professor in Comparative Humanities at SUNY College at Old Westbury.