Başak Altın

Lives and works in Ankara.

The archeological excavations in Turkey, which began in the late-Ottoman period to discover and exhibit artifacts from ancient civilizations, gradually evolved into efforts to uncover the remnants of a past that formed the basis of the modern nation-state ideology with the foundation of the Republic. This shift marked the instrumentalization of archeology in building a new social identity and rewriting national history. The first excavations on behalf of the Turkish Historical Society were realized in Ahlatlıbel, Ankara, under the direction of ethnographer, archaeologist, and linguist Hamit Zübeyr Koşay (1897–1984). Serving as the founding director of the Ethnography Museum of Ankara, Koşay conducted several excavations across Anatolia, especially in the archeological site of Alacahöyük. In his 1934 report on Ahlatlıbel excavations, Koşay elaborated on the work and compared the findings with Troya excavations, which he had been closely following at the time. Establishing Türk Etnografya Dergisi [Journal of Turkish Ethnography] in 1956, Koşay wrote and published numerous articles on museology and ethnography to encourage further research on the subject.

Departing from Hamit Zübeyr Koşay’s fieldwork, Hâfir explores the role and function of archeology in the construction of national identity by forging connections between found objects and archival documents through a fictional archive composed by artist Başak Altın.

A collection of nearly two hundred glass negatives and glass positives, discovered by the artist in a junk dealer’s warehouse, forms the basis of the exhibition. Attributing the photographs taken during excavations in Turkey and the Middle East between the 1920s and 1960s to Koşay, Altın builds an imaginary archival room, and juxtaposes the visual material with Koşay’s publications and a range of documents compiled from unofficial archives. Addressing the hybridity of the factual and the fictional, the individual and the public, the artist offers a critical approach to the role of archaeology in the construction of national identity, with a focus on archaeological works conducted during the early Republican years.

This fragmented body of work comprises a photograph and projection of Şeref Akdik’s painting Atatürk Ahlatlıbel’de Kazıda [Atatürk on the Excavation Site of Ahlatlıbel] (1933), a monumental document of the Republic’s first excavation performed under the direction of Koşay, a photograph of the excavation site from the first issue of Türk Tarih, Arkeologya ve Etnografya Dergisi [Journal of Turkish History, Archaeology and Ethnography] published in 1933, an excerpt from Koşay’s report titled Ahlatlıbel Hafriyatı [Ahlatlıbel Excavation] (1934) and pages from his book Arşiv Nedir [What is Archive?] (1936) in addition to three photographs found by the artist during an archaeological excavation, alongside the archive displayed as dia positives.