Fellows in Focus: Emre Gönlügür

Color photo of an olive skinned man sitting at a cafe table with an open book, looking at the camera
Emre Gönlügür in the Cortile (photograph by Claudia Gori)

Emre Gönlügür, assistant professor in the Department of Architecture at Izmir University of Economics and our 2024 Getty Global Affiliated Fellow, is benefiting from the interdisciplinary nature of the American Academy, where daily interactions with the community yield unexpected results. Or as he puts it, the experience at AAR “decenters one’s viewpoint but enriches one’s perspective at the same time.” While in Rome Gönlügür is working on a project on Blue Anatolia, an artistic and intellectual movement that thrived in Turkey during the 1950s and 1960s. He is at the Academy through July 2024, completing the second half of a fellowship that began last year.

With Zakarya Khelif, Gönlügür’s cohort in the Getty Global Affiliate program, he organized the conference Decentering the Mediterranean in May 2023. This month he will give the first talk in the Getty Global Lecture series, focusing on “Blue Anatolia: The Classical Heritage and Modern Imagination in Postwar Turkey” on April 23. One week later, Khelif will speak on “A Closer Look at the Domestic Architecture of Tipasensis.”

AAR spoke to Gönlügür about his recent activities.

What have you been working on while at AAR? Has your project changed since arriving?

I am an architectural historian, but my research here at the Academy also extends into art history, intellectual history, and classical reception studies. I focus on the Blue Anatolia debate, an artistic and intellectual movement that developed in Turkey during the 1950s and petered out in the early 1980s. The movement brought together artists, architects, writers, poets, and scholars who took an interest in the cultural heritage of classical antiquity along Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coastline. They tried to reinterpret this heritage as a humanistic basis for cultivating a geographically and multiculturally rooted Turkish national identity. I try to reconstruct the historical context for this artistic and intellectual enterprise and explore its manifestations in art and architecture.

The main axis of my research and the fundamental questions that guide me haven’t changed in any essential way since my arrival at the Academy. But they’ve certainly matured and deepened. Being in Rome, in such close proximity to the physical remains of antiquity, for one, gives you an embodied understanding of how modern generations of artists, architects, and intellectuals might have interpreted the classical heritage, how they might have viewed the ancient past when they encountered its physical remains at first hand.

What’s something that has surprised you about being at the Academy?

I am amazed at how the Academy is such a vibrant crossroads of ideas, and caters to such a diverse array of scholarly fields and creative practices. It’s exciting and inspiring to be at the center of this traffic. One can never anticipate when or where inspiration will strike. During a shoptalk or a studio visit? Over dinner conversation? It is almost like an arts and humanities equivalent of an experiment in quantum physics. You come out with serendipitous insights. There is something humbling and rewarding about the diversity and breadth of expertise one encounters here. It decenters one’s viewpoint but enriches one’s perspective at the same time.

Have you had any great conversations with other fellows or residents that changed your perspective?

Certainly. These conversations are very helpful in refining and honing one’s ideas, and they don’t have to be discipline specific. To give just one example, when I was here last spring for the first half of my fellowship, I greatly enjoyed talking to Thaïsa Way (2016 Fellow, 2023 Resident), a scholar of landscape architecture. She suggested that I look into the emerging field of oceanic studies, or the “blue humanities,” if you will. What I found in that literature turned out to complement the theoretical framework that I am developing for my research here.

What have you seen in the city of Rome that has made a strong impression on you?

The city of Rome, in its entirety, has made the biggest impression on me. In my architectural history survey classes, I cover a significant number of buildings, monuments, and urban projects from Rome. But, it’s one thing to discuss a single building in its own historical context as opposed to seeing several of them lined up on a street or within a single neighborhood. And to observe the ongoing dialogue between them—even though they are separated from each other by decades, centuries, and in some cases, even millennia—is truly remarkable. It is as if time folds into space and becomes almost tangible.

Another thing that strikes me is the industrial scale of construction that made ancient Rome what it was. I am constantly awestruck by the kind of extensive brick wall surfaces you see in places like the Roman Forum, Ostia, or Hadrian’s Villa. Their vastness is overpowering and still resonates with the labor, resources, and wealth that went into their making, undoubtedly at a great cost to human life and the environment.

The Getty Global Affiliated Fellowship program is made possible with support from Getty through its Connecting Art Histories initiative.

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