Art history exhibit celebrates Istanbul in images, words and sound

In mid-May, a new art history course took a group of 10 Rice students on a three-week exploration of Istanbul, the Turkish metropolis that straddles Europe and Asia across the Bosporus. The students’ experiences in images, words and sounds are now on display in an exhibition, “Istanbul: The City and Its History,” in Herring Hall’s first-floor gallery walkway.

From left, art history major Jennifer Cernada, Associate Professor of Art History Shirine Hamadeh and art history Ph.D. student Chelsea Dacus curated the exhibit “Istanbul: The City and Its History.” Photos by Tommy LaVergne

“I got excited to go to Turkey because I never thought of that as a destination,” said Jennifer Cernada, a Jones College senior majoring in art history and visual and dramatic arts. “(Istanbul) was incredible; it’s the portal between Europe and Asia … the mixture of the two cultures … the architecture and the food, everything is very unique.”

Cernada and Chelsea Dacus, an assistant curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston who is currently in her second year of pursuing a Ph.D. in art history at Rice, curated the exhibit with the help of course instructor Shirine Hamadeh, an associate professor of art history.

Hamadeh led the course with art history doctoral candidate Ümit Açıkgöz, who is now writing his dissertation in Istanbul. Each day, class was held at a different historical site — including the celebrated Hagia Sophia Museum, Topkapı Palace and Süleymaniye Mosque — or in central neighborhoods such as Galata, Taksim and the Jewish quarter of Balat. The course was conducted as part lecture, part seminar, with discussions and written assignments focused on first-hand experiences and assigned readings, Hamadeh said. The students visited museums and art galleries, saw music recitals and performances and were encouraged to use creative ways to capture the city’s sights, sounds and textures through text and image.

The exhibit is on display in Herring Hall’s first-floor gallery walkway.

“I don’t think learning is just through books,” said Sophie Schnietz, a Baker College sophomore majoring in English who wrote the exhibit’s captions. “… This experience really illustrates that. We were walking everywhere. We didn’t have a classroom. We just got to experience the city, and I think that’s really valuable.”

The students’ experience was part of two opportunities the Department of Art History now offers Rice students every year to study and explore some of the world’s most impressive cities, museums and collections in the world. Over spring break, the department takes majors on a free trip to New York City to experience its museums and collections. Each May, a faculty member and an advanced Ph.D. student team up to teach a summer course in one of the greatest centers for art in the world. For that course the department covers students’ airfare, lodging and site admissions. In 2016, the summer course will visit Rome. For more information, go to

To view a Rice News video about the exhibit, go to

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.