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Osman Hamdi Bey's  "Turtle Trainer"

Turtle Trainer, 1906 Osman Hamdi

by Emin PAMUCAK
Cary, North Carolina

During the last decade several prominent Turkish business families like Koç, Sabanci,  Eczacibasi and Sahenk have consistently made the annual Forbes 500 Richest People of the World list.  With riches to share, basic philanthropy has always been part of their philosophy from the early days of success.  Recently though, their interests in arts coupled with healthy family foundations has given art lovers several world class museums in Istanbul.    Some examples are Sabanci's "Atli Kosk" and Eczacibasi's "Istanbul Modern Sanat," both located along the beautiful shores of  the Bosphorus.  The latest addition to this list  is the new "Pera Museum," founded by Suna and Inan Kirac of the Koc family.

Without a doubt, the jewel of the Pera Museum is the "Turtle Trainer" (Kamplubaga Terbiyecisi), a celebrated 1906 painting by Osman Hamdi Bey.

In December 2004, the "Turtle Trainer" was auctioned to the Suna and Inan Kirac Foundation for a record $3.5M and has been on public display at the new Pera Museum since its opening in June, 2005.  It is part of the museum's "Portraits from the Empire" collection, also known as Orientalist Genre paintings, depicting the opulent Ottoman world in various aspects.


Suna and Inan Kiraç

Osman Hamdi Bey was a contemporary Ottoman man of his time. The son of a one time Grand Vizier (as well as a career statesman, minister and diplomat) Osman Hamdi was born in Istanbul in 1842.   Although he was sent to Paris to study law, he abandoned his studies to follow his talent and passion for the arts at the Paris Academy of Fine Arts. 12 years later he returned to his country as an artist instead of as a member of the Bar.  He was regarded as an intellectual and led the implementation and modernization of important cultural movements and imperial institutions in Archeology and Museology.  He also established the first  School of Fine Arts (Guzel Sanatlar Akademisi) in Istanbul and was its director for the first 28 years.

His art and outlook on life was inspired by western influences and he had a unique ability in comfortably harmonizing these influences with the cultural backdrop he represented.  Fusion of cultures and societal advancement were among his passions, and it is well known that this push for change and the duality it forced on the Ottoman society was in fact paradoxically painful for him.  The "Turtle Trainer" is one of Osman Hamdi Bey's most original and creative works. It subtly portrays this basic social message:  that change is difficult, requiring much patience, in fact the patience of a sufi dervish. 

The five turtles in this portrait symbolize a stubborn, resistant and slow changing society.   Some even believe that they represent the five most difficult associates of Osman Hamdi, giving him heartburn.  The turtle trainer, dressed in a red dervish robe and a turban, holding a ney (sufi flute) is Osman Hamdi, representing a patient intellectual that is coaching change.   A change he hopes to teach primarily by blowing his ney and occasionally by using it to prod or reprimand the animals.  Unfortunately, the turtles have no ears to hear the ney and with a thick protective shell they are also not bothered by his prodding.   His efforts are futile.   Osman Hamdi Bey's calls for westernization are met by deaf ears and much resistance by the establishment and the conservative segments. 

Profile of Emin Pamucak:
Emin Pamucak was born in 1959 in Kutahya, Turkey to immigrant families from Ottoman Turkish towns in Bulgaria and Greece. After receiving his elementary school education in Karadeniz Ereglisi and Ankara, Emin attended middle school and high school in suburban metropolitan Washington, D.C. He holds BS and MS degrees in engineering from Bogazici University and University of Maryland. Employed by IBM since 1984, he has worked at company locations in Minnesota, New York, Connecticut and most recently North Carolina.

A firm believer in "by and for" grassroots civic representation, Emin is involved in community development and advocacy with emphasis in promoting cross cultural diversity, citizen diplomacy and social responsibility. He feels privileged to be a product of two cultures and has been an active member of ATA North Carolina since 1996, serving his community as the President of the Association for the last three years. He has received Association's Distinguished Member and Distinguished Leader Awards. In 2004, ATA North Carolina was recognized as ATAA's Component Association of the Year. Currently, Emin is serving the Turkish-American community as ATAA Vice President for the South Eastern United States. He is a founding member and the current president of Bridge to Turkiye Fund, which is a North Carolina based US charitable organization focused on improving the underprivileged segments of Turkish society. Emin also serves on the advisory boards of Young Guru Academy of Istanbu!l! , Turkey and Friends of Anatolia of Stanford, CA. He is happily married to Ayse and is the father of Ayca, a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill.

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