Arts and Literature

Three generations of artists converge in Istanbul: the Hristoff family

Written by The Frontier Post

Melis Alemdar

Featuring family histories, photographs, postcards, paintings, silkscreens and carpets, a new exhibition at Yapi Kredi Kultur Sanat Yayincilik in Beyoglu tells the fascinating tale of a family of artists.

A new exhibition at Yapi Kredi Kultur Sanat Yayincilik, in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district on Istiklal Street, brings together three generations of the Hristoff family. Originally from Bulgaria, the Hristoff family first came to Istanbul in 1923, and then immigrated to New York in 1963.

The three generations of artists document Istanbul, starting with black and white photographs in the 1920s and 1930s. Peter Dimiter Hristoff was right in the midst of the first days of the Republic, and began collecting ephemera. This habit was continued by his son Dimiter Hristoff and grandson Peter, who is one of the curators of the “Memento Istanbul: Hristoff Family Archive” exhibition.

Dimiter Hristoff and Peter Dimiter Hristoff, Sofia, Bulgaria, 1918-1919.
Dimiter Hristoff and Peter Dimiter Hristoff, Sofia, Bulgaria, 1918-1919. ()

“From Sofia to Paris, from Paris to California, from California to New York,” Peter Hristoff, a New York based artist, educator and co-curator of the exhibition says. His great grandfather, an orphan born in the mid 1800s, he says, was raised by a farmer family who called him ‘garden boy’.

‘Garden boy’ decided to leave Kukush and move to Thessaloniki when he was 16 and started calling himself Dimiter Hristoff. He got married there, and made money. Later in life he ended up in Sofia, becoming the head of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce. He would go to Italy to buy his wines and to order the fabric for his suits. “He never went to school, he was a self-made man,” Peter Hristoff says.

The Hristoff family factory, Ka-Bo, is declared as
The Hristoff family factory, Ka-Bo, is declared as “The biggest stocking factory in Türkiye” in this photograph. (Courtesy of Yapi Kredi Kultur Sanat Yayincilik)

Going back in time, Dimiter Hristoff and his son Peter Hristoff were fighting against the Greek Army alongside Macedonian guerillas in the mountains in Kukush during the Balkan Wars. Dimiter’s wife was taken into custody and beaten to death, Dimiter and Peter escaped by bribing jail guards with the gold coins sewn into the lining of Peter’s belt.

The Turkish Dilber family in Thessaloniki hosted the Hristoffs in their home for a few weeks, until they could bring them to Sofia. In Sofia Dimiter began to work again, and re-married. Peter objected to this marriage, especially after his mother’s gruesome death, and went to live with his mother’s sister. He would work at a photographer’s studio after school.

Dimiter Hristoff, Ronepark, Yesilkoy, Istanbul. Oil on wood.
Dimiter Hristoff, Ronepark, Yesilkoy, Istanbul. Oil on wood. (Courtesy of Yapi Kredi Kultur Sanat Yayincilik)

The photographer wrote to Dimiter, telling him that his son Peter was very talented and should attend art school in Sofia after his high school studies were completed. Dimiter wanted his son to come back, and when he did, he enrolled in the art school in Sofia.

Aliye Berger & Dimiter Hristoff, İstiklal Street, 1961. Mixed media on paper.
Aliye Berger & Dimiter Hristoff, İstiklal Street, 1961. Mixed media on paper. (Courtesy of Yapi Kredi Kultur Sanat Yayincilik)

In art school Peter also acquired political ideas, namely he was against royalty in Bulgaria and believed there should be no king to rule the country. Dimiter realised his son was in great danger and said “I am sending you to Istanbul.”

“This is how my grandfather came to Istanbul,” Peter Hristoff says at the exhibition, “in 1923. Before he moved to Istanbul, he confessed that he was in love with his father’s wife’s daughter.”

Hristoff Ailesi, on the grounds of the Ka-Bo factory, circa 1955.
Hristoff Ailesi, on the grounds of the Ka-Bo factory, circa 1955. (Courtesy of Yapi Kredi Kultur Sanat Yayincilik)

“Viktorya’s mother was against this marriage. A few months after my grandfather Peter had left for Istanbul, Dimiter put Viktorya on the Orient Express from Sofia to Istanbul, and the lovers were united,” Peter Hristoff continues.

“They got married in Istanbul. When Viktorya became pregnant, she travelled back to Sofia to give birth at her mother’s home. That’s where my father was born and everybody was happy,” Peter Hristoff explains.

Peter Hristoff, Untitled, 2005. Mixed media on rice paper, Omer M. Koc Collection.
Peter Hristoff, Untitled, 2005. Mixed media on rice paper, Omer M. Koc Collection. (Courtesy of Yapi Kredi Kultur Sanat Yayincilik)

Grandfather Peter Hristoff lived in Istanbul until 1960. “Foto Sabah’s owner, Iskender Bey, was a close friend of my grandfather,” Hristoff says. “My grandfather would often visit his new studio in Paris.”

Peter Hristoff says when his great grandfather realised that his grandfather would not return to Sofia and enjoyed living in Istanbul, he offered his son a deal: a factory to manage, so that he could supplement his artist’s income and take care of his budding family.

“They set up Türkiye’s first nylon stockings factory, Ka-Bo, in Aksaray,” Hristoff adds. “After 30 years, towards the end of the 1950s, they set up a second factory, in Bahcelievler.”

Peter Dimiter Hristoff, Graveyard, 1923-26. Oil on paper, Omer M. Koc Collection.
Peter Dimiter Hristoff, Graveyard, 1923-26. Oil on paper, Omer M. Koc Collection. (Courtesy of Yapi Kredi Kultur Sanat Yayincilik)

Interrupting Hristoff gently, co-curator Yesim Demir Proehl notes that the material at hand shaped the exhibition –– between cities, between individuals,between generations, and between styles. “It’s like the threads of an incredible carpet, or needlework like the heirloom at the entrance,” she says.

“In the process of preparing this exhibition, we come across production schemes of the Turkish Republic, the unique story of a family, love stories, a Bulgarian population of 20,000 [in Istanbul] in the 1920s; but most importantly we live in transient times, and the details offered up in postcards, photographs, paintings, help explore a family of three generations of artists.”

Yesim Demir turns to Peter Hristoff and calls him a memory collector, to which he answers, “Aren’t we all, a little bit?” in perfectly formed, if slightly accented Turkish. She goes on to say that his work that incorporates silhouettes, displayed on the second floor, ties the exhibition together.

The postcards, pictures, ephemera and photographs from the archive tell the story of a family who has grown roots in the city of Istanbul with nostalgia and sentimentality. Three generations of Hristoffs always merged in the central city of Istanbul, from which they have drawn inspiration, be it its history, culture or people.

The exhibition is curated by Peter Hristoff, Elif Erdogan, and Yesim Demir Proehl and features objects from the Hristoff Family Archive as well as paintings on loan from the Pera Museum, Rahmi Koc Museum, Yapı Kredi, Nur ve Selçuk Altun, Omer M Koc, Emel and Bulent Korman, and Aysegul and Omer Ozyurek collections.

“Memento Istanbul: Hristoff Family Archive” is on view until August 7, 2022. There is a book in Turkish and English that accompanies the exhibition.

Courtesy: TRTWorld

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