Interview with Zeynep Rona, art historian, archivist
by Maja Markovic
Can you tell us about your background, studies and academic history?
I studied art history at the Ankara University Faculty of Languages, History and Geography. My first job was to set up the Slide Library at the Middle East Technical University (METU) Faculty of Architecture. Retrospectively I can say that this was a defining point in my professional life. To be able to systematically classify approximately 20,000 slides on architecture and related topics, I had to find a system. So I examined different library classifying systems and found out that none of them were ‘just right’ for us. Then I realised that for a specialised library or an archive, you have to work out your own system, ‘finding what you want easily’ being the key element. The coding system I developed was a combination of numbers and letters. I helped other academics and institutions to apply this system to their own slide collections. After that, my professional life evolved around documentation. Later I worked as the art editor of the Turkish version of Encyclopædia Britannica (1986-90), becoming the co-editor of the first edition (1997) of the Eczacıbaşı Art Encyclopædia.
I didn’t continue my academic studies after receiving my BA degree, but apart from working freelance at times, I have almost always worked with academics and educational institutions.
How did your archive begin? Was it a conscious decision or more of a natural evolvement?
It was definitely a natural evolvement. As an art historian I always felt the lack of art publications written in the Turkish language. I had a good command of English, but my fellow students were not as lucky as I was. With this in mind I set out to writing documentary articles on artists and exhibitions; I was never interested in pure criticism, as I believe that true criticism (and research for that matter) can only occur if you have a good accumulation of documents and sources to depend on. So in the mid-1970s I started clipping newspapers and collecting invitations, press releases and documents related to Turkish art, past and present. That was an interesting period in the Turkish art scene. New art galleries were opening and new art magazines were seen on the shelves. I collected all; anything related to Turkish art—in any shape or form—found its way to my filing envelopes and boxes.