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A Modern Past in Architecture: Architect Abdullah Onar

By Dize Kükrer (Art Rooms Assistant to director)

Art Rooms Gallery, with the exhibition titled ‘A Modern Past’, which is a biographical archive curated by Anber Onar, Emin Çizenel and Oya Silbery, hosted in April 2022, brought together the archives of architect Abdullah Onar, who made significant contributions to Turkish Cypriot architecture and played an important role in the transition of the society to the modern life culture, with the audience. In the exhibition visitors had the chance to observe the designs Onar realized in his professional life, the sketches and watercolour works of his student years, as well as the personal objects he used in his private life. The book titled A Modern Past, written by Anber Onar and published simultaneously with the exhibition, was also introduced to the audience with a presentation held at Art Rooms on June 23, 2022.

Designed by Oya Silbery, the book (11 chapters, 184 pages), which includes Anber Onar’s research and interviews over the years, not only sheds light on the archive of Abdullah Onar, the third registered architect among Turkish Cypriots, but also examines his professional and personal life in detail.

In an interview with Doğuş Özokutan, Anber Onar describes her approach to the book as follows: I wanted it to be a biographical book. But the flowing text composed of ‘memories’ created a playful consistency that directly touched my father and opened him up. After all, I think it also served a biographical purpose. While describing him, I also took into account his impact on society. The most important thing for me was sincerity. I built most of my writing on the dialogues with my father and I did not want to disturb the flow of the speech. I preferred to make a whole from little stories. Source: Lefkoşa’nın kalbine damga vuran mimar: Abdullah Onar “Bir Modern Geçmiş” A Modern Past begins with an intimate story about the discovery of forgotten pieces of Abdullah Onar’s archive:

Page 8 Father’s Day 15 June 2014 Pointing to the two huge framed watercolours we prepared for him, when I said “Did you remember, dad?” he looked at them again in surprise. Only then did he see the signature of A.M Ali under the paintings. Even more amazed, when he said “I made these!”, we all laughed with both a strange sadness and a laugh that we couldn’t help ourselves. These were landscape watercolours that my father made when he was a freshman at Durham University, where he went to study architecture. One had a red seal on it, indicating that it had received an award. Sixty-odd years had passed since 1953…

Page 67 Vision of the Culture The subject of architectural structures, while enabling people to experience their lifestyles, habits and worldviews from a certain perspective, is perhaps a phenomenon that naturally guides them in the most subtle and masterful way. (…) Therefore, I tried to follow and understand how Abdullah Onar, as a modern, innovative architect, created a change in architecture both intuitively and professionally in his career that started in the 1950s. (…) When I look at Abdullah Onar and the buildings he designed and the owners of the buildings, I see both the transformation of these buildings into the modern world at that time, and how open all the people in his client portfolio, which has a wide range of, are to innovation and architectural proposals.

The book also includes many stories and memories about Abdullah Onar’s professional career, which started after his student years in Cyprus and England, and life on the island. This study, which is a first in the history of Turkish Cypriot Architecture, can be obtained from bookstores.

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