South African artist connects with Istanbul landscape

Yazeed Kamaldien

When Cape Town-based painter Diana Page relocated to Istanbul six years ago she was seeking change but her move to Turkey’s cultural heartbeat has taken her closer to home.

Page spoke to Weekend Argus at her Istanbul studio but is presently on a two-month partial work stint in Cape Town where she has lived for most of career as a visual artist. She was born in Durban and raised in Grahamstown.

Artist Diana Page in her studio by Yazeed Kamaldien

For Page, the Mother City remains home while Istanbul is another base. She lives between the two cities with her partner and 11-year-old son.

“We had been living in fabulous Cape Town for a long time. We loved it but it reached a saturation point. We were bound for the United States and then something came up for him (her partner) in Istanbul,” says Page.

“We’ve been together a long time. He’s just as adventurous as I am and our son is growing up like that.”

The threesome moved to Istanbul where Page felt like she was starting her artistic career from scratch. She had already spent years teaching art at a Cape Town high school while exhibiting work with a female artist’s group, the Boudoir Biscuits Collective. Istanbul was the deep end.

“I just threw myself at this city and learned the language (Turkish) as fast as I could. I now have breakfast with my landlady and none of them speak English. I end up spending hours speaking only in Turkish,” says Page.

Approaching Istanbul’s artistic world was as complex as the city’s geography. Istanbul is a humungous metropolis, with an estimated 13 million residents and pockets of economic and creative activity. Galleries open and close as fast as internet cafes. The art scene shifts constantly.

Page had to find her voice and place among what seemed like an “appearance of what is the art scene”.

“I realised about Istanbul that it wasn’t going to be about the regular routes of having exhibitions or establishing networks. There were no clear paths. I had to use the city as a metaphor and go from one person to one point to one place.”

Page initially “started working on my kitchen table and did small paintings”.

“I did a series of immediate responses to being here. I showed that work at a local restaurant, where a South African was the manager, in the first few months that I was here,” she recalls.

Page also engaged Istanbul’s creative sector with skills that she could offer.

“I worked with another artist at a French school. We had to teach English through art. Students made one-minute videos to look at their own lives from a different perspective. We wanted to get children to look at things in a different way,” says Page.

Living in Istanbul meanwhile reminds Page of Woodstock, Cape Town, where she used to live.

“Where I live reminds me of Woodstock because I live in an area with a strong sense of community. There’s a street where you have the local baker, tailor and shoemaker. It’s becoming increasingly rare to find that in cities that are becoming mono-cultural,” says Page.

“I have an awareness of Cape Town and Istanbul as home and I am balancing that. For now, I am completely based in Istanbul. My home, family and two dogs are here.”

Page says that she was also “adamant that I did not want my son to grow up in an ex-pat ghetto on the outskirts of the town”.

“We opted as a family not to live there. That is where a lot of people coming into Istanbul end up. My partner teaches at the British International School so there is contact with ex-pats,” says Page.

“Where we live my son is out until 11pm at night in summer and we don’t know where he is. But we know that he’s safe. He’s with other families and he takes part in the meals at the mosque (at sunset in Ramadaan).

“He has spent more of his life in Turkey than in South Africa. He speaks excellent street Turkish. There is richness in his experience. It’s fantastic.”

Page lives in a suburb near her art studio. The latter is located in a multi-story house where another artist works and a local family lives.

While Page has integrated in personal spaces, her professional experience in Istanbul has led to various exhibitions and collaborations. Vitally, it led her back to Cape Town.

“Through this city I have been able to go back into South Africa in a different space with my work. It was important for me to be away from Cape Town to go in from a new place,” says Page.

“It’s been a big thing to start working in Cape Town again and making connections with people outside the grooves of when I was living there.”

Page also started developing performance and video work in Istanbul. She conceptualised, directed and also performed in these works.

“I was thinking about the invisibility of women’s voices in the public sound space in Istanbul. I thought about taking women’s voices into that space. I worked on a rooftop in Istanbul and it was a gathering of friends. We did the performance one Saturday afternoon. The women called over to each other across rooftops,” says Page.

This led to a similar performance in New York and another in Cape Town earlier this year as part of the Infecting the City festival.

Page says irrespective of where she is though, ultimately her “painting as liquid thought” is home. This reflects her tinge of bohemia. Or perhaps her mother being an artist and father a psychology professor influenced the fluidity that she enjoys via her career as a painter.

“Painting is a homecoming for me. It means that I can be at home anywhere. I will paint when I am in Cape Town. I am also interested in taking this body of work (made in Istanbul) back to South Africa. I am starting to discuss with people and thinking about that.”


(This article was published in the Weekend Argus newspaper on Sunday, July 15 2012.)



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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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