One photograph found in a second-hand bookshop became the iconic masterpiece of a recent irresistibly tempting exhibition:“
A Sweet History of Chocolate from Ottoman to Republican Times,” now open in St. Joseph High School. It is a black and white photo of a little girl, clutching tightly a chocolate bar. The photograph was probably sent by the father to a friend as a souvenir. Behind the photo it read: “Naughty Şule, in a greedy pose – 20 April, ’27”. The sheepish expression of the girl reveals that her attention is temporarily distracted by the photo session, and all she wants is to tear open the package and devour its whole contents. It seems that a bar of Nestlé was the only pay off they could use to tame the little disobedient girl. As the date behind the photograph indicates, chocolate must have been the ultimate treat and a true novelty of the time; Nestlé has opened its first chocolate factory in Turkey in 1927.
Coffee started its world voyage in Ottoman lands, however, coffee’s now inseparable companion chocolate was a rather late arrival to this geography. It was a “Frenk” thing, “French” standing for western and modern. It was not only consumed as a sweet delight, but also accepted as a remedy, believed to restore health and cure colds. This miracle cure was initially a drink, later eating chocolate became popular. There are even records of chocolate being sold in pharmacies in Istanbul. Chocolate began appearing in early 1900’s, especially in cosmopolitan towns like Istanbul and Izmir. It was readily accepted as something modern and good, but definitely not exotic, as opposed to initial European perceptions of chocolate. Turks, probably because of their on-going love affair with coffee, accepted hot chocolate as a lovable drink; soon patisseries were competing with other to serve the best cup. The history of chocolate in Turkey was never studied in detail; finally this exhibition brings into light a previously unexplored area.
It all started with a former exhibition curated by Saadet Özen on Ottoman postcards. Having noticed the chocolate theme appearing frequently in postcards, together with Göknur Gündoğan, the project coordinator for French La Sallian High Schools in Turkey, they decided to focus on this irresistible topic. Incidentally, St. Joseph had a strong connection with chocolate; every graduate has sweet memories of bread & chocolate afternoon coffee breaks, where warm bread fresh from the oven was given to students with a bar of chocolate along with a cup of coffee. An exhibition on chocolate would perfectly match with the school’s annual bread & chocolate reunion days! The more they researched, the more they found. Eventually they approached the Swiss Consulate in Istanbul, and with their support, they had the Nestlé company sponsoring the research and the exhibition.
The archives of Nestlé in Vevey, Switzerland revealed exciting documents, other material came from various sources and collections, such as photographs from Cengiz Kahraman collection, and boxes from MSA collection. Most of the material was gathered from auctions starting a private collection for the school. Postcards, advertisement cards, posters, tin boxes, gift boxes, various photographs like the one on the poster were all compiled and sorted out by curator Saadet Özen, and the exhibition was playfully designed by Sedat Şensoy. One of the most exciting items found was a display dummy chocolate, the exact Nestlé package at the hand of the little girl in the photograph. It is now displayed at the entrance of the exhibit, welcoming visitors to view the early story of chocolate in Turkey. Chocoholic Şule has become the face of the sweet indulgence and the package in the photograph is now tinted in original bright red color making the chocolate bar undoubtedly the focus point of the partially blurry pic, and of the whole exhibit.