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Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence opens in Istanbul

Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence, based on his 2008 novel, houses thousands of objects that evoke the atmosphere of 1970s Turkey and enshrine ordinary life.

By / May 17, 2012

The Museum of Innocence, recently opened in Istanbul by Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, takes its name from Pamuk’s 2008 novel.

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Nobel laureate and Turkey’s most famous living author Orhan Pamuk recently opened his Museum of Innocence in Istanbul's Çukurcuma neighborhood. Housed in a wine-red, four-story building constructed in 1897, the museum takes its name from Mr. Pamuk’s 2008 novel of the same name and is a tribute to the "profane magic" of Turkish everydayness, featuring 83 display cases (one for each chapter of the book) filled with ordinary objects drawn from the novel.

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The first display greeting the visitor to the museum is the “cigarette wall,” which showcases 4,213 cigarettes smoked by Füsun, one of the characters in Pamuk’s novel. The exhibit is accompanied by a film reel, shot by Pamuk himself, showing a woman's hand movements as she smokes and taps her cigarette, and beneath each cigarette stub is a handwritten note about the day in which it was stolen; "Earthquake," reads one such inscription.

Writing in the Guardian, Pamuk described the perspective visitors should adopt when viewing the objects on display: “Visitors to my Museum of Innocence must compel themselves … to view all objects displayed therein – the buttons, toys, Füsun’s combs, tickets and old photographs – not as real things in the present moment, but as my memories." Pamuk has also emphasized that not all the display panels are complete: The New York Times quotes the author saying, "I will add a new episode to the story, new objects, new ideas, new little exhibitions by other artists."

Set in the 1970s, "The Museum of Innocence" tells the story of Kemal Basmaci, a prosperous Turkish businessman, and his love affair with a shopgirl of lower class (who happens to be a distant cousin) named Füsun Keskin. After ending the affair, Kemal experiences deep remorse and tries unsuccessfully to woo Füsun back. The lovelorn protagonist becomes increasingly estranged from society and his friends, who write him off as quixotic. Thus begins the process of sublimated repossession. In a period of 2,864 days, Kemal obsessively collects objects (some are pilfered) that remind him of his beloved. Thousands of cigarette stubs bearing the trace of Füsun’s lip rouge, among other objects, are set aside in Kemal’s room, which he intends to refurbish into a “museum of innocence.” ("Happiness," the last chapter in "The Museum of Innocence," includes one single admission ticket to the museum, which readers can redeem.)

Some objects in the physical Museum of Innocence were amassed from flea markets, antique shops, and private collections, but many, including a toothbrush collection, belonged to the author himself. Pamuk said, “The Museum of Innocence – just like the novel – is about the line between fiction and reality. The whole art of a novel is about readers asking themselves did the author really live this or did he imagine this? More or less, I did the same thing with the museum.”

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