A Wax Museum in Istanbul

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Nestled quietly in the basement of the doomed shopping mall Sapphire, I was skeptical of the experience that was about to unfold. I have never been to a wax museum before, nor have I had the desire. However, a mixture of boredom and curiosity resulted in my agreement when the invitation was extended. Sapphire’s bright flourescent lights were a sharp contrast to the darkness we entered. Classical music played as we wandered past famous artists, scientists, writers and sultans of the Ottoman Empire. It was interesting to put a face to names which have been introduced to me in my quest to understand the significance of the Ottomans. This part was perhaps the best and most interesting aspect of the trip for me.

In the next room there was a large and disproportionate presence of Soviet leaders. Adjacent to this bizarre emphasis, the presence of Adolph Hitler filled me with only disgust. What was the intent?! Is it necessary to memorialize and personify the good and the bad?! While wax figurines by no means glorify an individual, they give them an eerie presence beyond their time and place. While I could not help but question if Hitler was worthy to be in a ‘museum’, let alone a product that is assigned a value, I also found myself questioning if one’s accomplishments and success should elevate and remove them from this bizarre and superficial effort to create an attraction under the disguise of a museum.

After pondering this for a while, we wandered past the Beatles and Elvis, thus meeting my stereotyped assumptions of who and what I expected to find in a wax museum. In a special film space, there were two different versions of Ataturk. This was not surprising, but strangely familiar and anticlimactic. Statues and photographs of this great leader of the Turks can be found everywhere in Turkey. His timeless face is framed on walls in schools, shops and offices throughout the country. While his presence among this eclectic mix of notable personalities, great minds, and historic leaders did not surprise me, it seemed strange to see him memorialized in the basement of a shopping mall.  What value does this space hold? What role and responsibility do we have as a voyeur? And, what value do the figurines have as art? While my concerns and questions left me thinking, I found comfort in my classification of this space as a bizarre attraction, rather than a museum.

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