Dilşad Aladağ and Eda Aslan
In 2015, forgoing any kind of public consultation, the Turkish government allocated the botanical garden of Istanbul University, a supposedly protected object of cultural heritage, to the Directorate for Religious Affairs, which in turn ceded the property to the Office of the Mufti, the country’s highest Islamic legal authority. By the time these developments became public in 2017, officials had already decided to raze the garden and use its site to reconstruct the Ottoman-era building of the Bâb-ı Meşîhat, the residence of the highest Islamic religious scholar. At this point, artists and researchers Dilşad Aladağ and Eda Aslan started to piece together the social memory of Istanbul University’s Institute of Botany, which was founded in 1935 by Alfred Heilbronn and Leo Brauner, two Jewish exiles from Nazi Germany.
In “The Garden of (not) Forgetting,” Aladağ and Aslan manage to condense the complex, multifaceted history of the institute into a single exhibition space, letting the sphere of botany interact with the different forms of migratory movement among plants, scientific systems, and people. Mehpare Heilbronn’s Herbarium (all works cited, 2021), presents specimens from the private estate of Fatma Mehpare Başarman, one of the leading botanists of the then-budding Turkish Republic, who would go on to marry Alfred Heilbronn in 1948. The accompanying film, Still from Remembering Exercises, features Kurt Heilbronn, the son of Alfred and Mehpare, who tells the story of his parents’ exile and the building of the republic. This history is brought into the present with the installation Last Year’s Herbarium, which features plant samples covertly smuggled by Aladağ and Aslan, guerilla-style, from the botanical garden, which is now closed to the public.
With only a few well-placed interventions, “The Garden of (not) Forgetting” transforms questions of vegetation into a forceful investigation of a sociopolitical ecosystem in a state of rapid change—and of rapidly progressive (and elective) dementia.