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Seeing the imaginary at the Museum of Innocence

Quite frequently, we see museums dedicated to real-life instances, objects, or personalities. What makes the topic we are going to talk about this interesting is the fact that it has been built to display the objects and the characters of a daedal fictional book: The Museum of Innocence (Masumiyet Müzesi).

As the museum helps us understand the story of The Museum of Innocence, some information from the book is indeed essential to understand the museum itself. The book Masumiyet Müzesi was written by the renowned, Nobel prize owner Turkish author Orhan Pamuk in 2008. The main flow of events revolves around the love story of two protagonists Kemal and Füsun, and takes place between the 1970s and 2000s. In the story, Kemal was initially in love with another woman named Sibel, and he met Füsun in a store where he actually went to buy a bag for his significant other who became his fiancée later on. Kemal and Füsun both fell in love with each other, thus, Kemal left his fiancée and Füsun divorced his husband as a conclusion of Kemal’s great efforts. After reading thoroughly about the relationship between the two lovers, towards the end of the story, we find out that they had been in a car accident where Füsun died and Kemal stayed in a coma for weeks. As a result of his great misery, Kemal wanted to dedicate a museum for his love. There, the author interfered and finished the story only talking about Füsun and the museum. Today, the book which Orhan Pamuk dedicated to his beloved daughter, became a huge success and is right now translated into 58 languages.

Drafts and notes of Orhan Pamuk while writing the novel displayed at the museum

4 years later, in 2012, Orhan Pamuk decided to establish the museum that Kemal wanted to create in his story and that carries the same name as the book itself. He looked into many locations in Istanbul but eventually chose to renovate the house that he bought many years ago in the Çukurcuma district. Many readers have a lot of opinions about the reason why Orhan Pamuk chose a house as the museum, but the most common one is that since every home is already a museum in its own way and all of the items that it holds have an importance, the conditions create the best possible environment for a museum dedicated to any story.

The building is located in a very calm and authentic district, between narrow alleys mainly environed by houses. At the entrance of the museum, audio tour guides recorded with the voice of the author himself are offered in three languages. They are usually recommended as they could be an engaging addition to the experience, mainly because Orhan Pamuk not only tells facts about the museum, the sections and the boxes, but he also engages the story and some of the characters with the displayed items. If preferred, after putting on our headphones for the audio guides, the exhibition starts on the first floor and continues following the boxes towards upstairs.

two of the boxes on the second floor, both demonstrating places mentioned in the story

Since the museum has an extraordinary concept, naturally, the most frequent question asked by the readers of the book was whether the boxes and the items were in chronological order or not. Orhan Pamuk tells us that the first problem that he encountered during the construction of his museum was this exact same question (box numbered 2, named The Şanzelize Boutique). But then, he revealed in the audio guide that he decided the compositions do not necessarily have to be in a previously determined order, they have to carry and reflect their own spirits. He thought that the items could not be placed as books in a library, and he preferred to think of them individually according to the very own story that they tell so that the whole composition would appear more poetical. Point being made, we can all agree on the fact that his main goal can surely be considered accomplished since the boxes express many feelings and even some facts. For example, at the first floor the only thing that we see is the gigantic box where there is exactly 4,213 cigarettes with lipstick stains that are represented to be smoked by Füsun and collected by Kemal. There, we can also observe short sentences under every cigarette that describe the feelings, the love and the ideas of Kemal at that day. This way, we can get into the characters’ head and understand the story more profoundly and take the experience to a whole new level. When we go upstairs in the museum, we come across constricted floors with many more boxes and items in them. As another example, at the box numbered 15, we see a picture group of women with black strips on their eyes, displayed to show a fact about the mindset of the epoch to make the fiction even more realistic to the enthusiasts. We can also get a sight of the characters’ daily lives in specific sections such as the dress that Füsun wears every time she practices driving, the photo of her dad at his high school or even her ruler, pencils and utensils that Kemal touches every time he misses her.

A close-up photo of the exhibited cigarettes, each smoked by Füsun and the short remarks of Kemal

Today, it can be said that approximately forty thousand guests visit the Museum of Innocence every year. It has obtained many national labels and titles since it is the museum that is most mentioned by international media. The author, Orhan Pamuk won many awards with his book, museum and catalogue such as the “European Museum of the year” in 2014 and the “Mary Lynn Kotz Award” from the USA in 2013. And based upon all the facts mentioned, it is also safe to say that none of the accomplishments are surprising since the brilliant Museum of Innocence gives every one of us an extraordinary experience by making us see and observe the imaginary.

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