Dr Burhan didn’t just bring the world of art to life; she used art as the optic through which to explore science, politics, religion, architecture, and psychology; art was the key that she gave us to open endless doors of exploration. A true pedagogue, Filiz loved teaching above everything.
I think she even loved it more than she loved Gauguin.
Yet it would be a horrible shame if anyone who hadn’t been taught by her should come away from this without knowing that she was also lots (and lots) of FUN. She was fun, and she was funny, her dry delivery often making me giggle too hard and for too long during her lectures. I remember one occasion when, during a discussion of Fourth Dimensionality, a girl in the class put her hand up and said; ‘Isn’t this what Lewis was interested in?’ Filiz looked confused, and said; ‘Lewis? Who do you mean, ‘Lewis’? he girl said; ‘Lewis! You know, the guy who wrote Alice in Wonderland’.
‘Ah,’ said Filiz, ‘Lewis Carroll. Sorry. I didn’t know you were on such intimate terms with him’.
On another occasion, a classmate and I were in the library watching the endless movie Earth by Soviet filmmaker Alexander Dovzhenko. Bored out of our skulls, we looked up to see Dr Burhan. She stood behind us for a few moments watching the screen before saying; ‘Hard as they tried, they just couldn’t make tractors look sexy, could they’.
She really ‘got it’. She may have been a leading academic, but she was truly ‘cool’. I once told her this, and – quick as a tack and self-deprecating as always – she responded with; ‘Well….Let’s just say I’m Medium Cool’. I didn’t know at that point that she was referencing the avant-garde, ’69 movie; that would have to wait until my Art Since ’45 course the following semester. But she was wrong when she said she was ‘medium cool’, because there was nothing ‘medium’ about Filiz Burhan.
In my senior year, I was both stunned and completely honored when Filiz asked me if I would be interested in working with her on a paper to submit for The Sin-ming Shaw Award. I had clearly expressed too much interest in the Art and Film of the Weimar Republic (after all those wishy-washy Fauvres, I leapt on the political satires of the Weimar Republic like they were going out of style, which – by 1933 – they were!) Too honored to say anything but ‘yes!’, Filiz forewarned me that it would be ‘hard’. “I don’t mind!”, I eagerly retorted. She looked at me through those intense, hazel eyes of hers and said; ‘No, Amanda. I mean really hard”.
She wasn’t kidding. My first draft (50 pages) was rejected. By Filiz. “Is there anything in it we can salvage?” I desperately asked. “Well,” she replied, “we can keep your name”.
My second attempt didn’t do much better, yet by the third draft, we had nailed it. She had worked with me for an entire semester, giving up her lunch breaks and evenings to sit down with me and go through, line by line, my endless ramblings on George Grosz, Otto Dix, Christian Schad et al. After one particularly difficult evening, exhausted and despondent, I shrieked; ‘I HATE these Weimar guys!”
In true Filiz fashion, she exhaled, looked at me, and said; “Well in your hands, I’m not that wild about them anymore, either”.
As always, she made me laugh, and our laughter diffused our frustration with each other (‘Why can’t she be happy with ANYTHING I write?’/’Why can’t she write ANYTHING of worth?!’), and she got us back on track.
I didn’t win The Sin-ming Shaw Award, but WHO’S THE BOSS? Authority as a Benevolent Omnipresence in Art and Film of the Weimar Republic is still the finest piece of writing I have ever done. More importantly, the faith that Filiz placed in my abilities as a writer and a thinker gave me the confidence to go on to become a published author, and – more recently – a college teacher.
Filiz’s friendship extended well beyond the classroom, and far beyond my years at AUP. For a start, I can’t count the number of times she babysat my cats, Lancelot and Serge, whenever I had to travel for my former job as a trend analyst, nor how she read all of my manuscripts before they were sent to agents and publishers. As if she didn’t have enough work to do, Filiz found it impossible to ‘stop teaching’, her former students continually badgering her for her help, thoughts and advice.
The more I got to know Filiz, the more I discovered about her (her incredible love of animals and concern for the preservation of endangered species belied her often ‘tough as nails’ exterior). And yet, although I came to know and love her well, she was always something of a mystery ; she played her cards close to her chest, had a strange aversion to asking for help (yet never hesitated to offer it), and would seldom talk about herself, preferring to discuss the news and help with the problems of others.
I think that I personally felt closest to her when, ironically, I was living far away from her and didn’t have the pleasure of our weekly dinners. I moved to New York three years ago, where I started teaching at LIM College. There wasn’t a week that went by when I didn’t email her for advice (‘How can I get them to understand the Dadaists?’, ‘Remind me what’s good about those Abstract Expressionists!’), and not a week that went by when she didn’t email me back with articles, links, and – most importantly – ideas that would help me be a better teacher.
It was the proudest moment of my life when I told her that I had been made a full-time faculty member of LIM College, and she wrote me an email that began with the words; Dear Colleague.
I have said, many, many times, that I couldn’t have done what I did with my life had it not been for Professor Burhan. She was a true mentor – and a true friend. She taught me everything I know, and I’m now teaching everything I know to my own students, none of them aware that what they’re really getting is a paled-down imitation of the true – and wonderful – original.
She changed my life, yet – as I said at the start of this tribute – this is not a story of just one life-changing friendship. She changed the lives of so many of us that to gather us in kind would take an auditorium far larger than any an AUP graduation ceremony could ever hope to hold.
She was truly loved.
A few months ago, in the winter, I was walking from one of my college campus building to another. I was wearing far too many layers, had a laptop strung across one shoulder, a book bag dangling from another, and was smoking a cigarette. The students who passed me said; ‘Hi, Professor Hallay!’, and I’d give a little nod and raise my hand in a gesture I was sure I had picked up from someone else. Catching a glimpse of myself in a store window, I thought; ‘Oh my God! I’m turning into Filiz Burhan!’
Now that she is gone, I realize that this can only be a wonderful thing.
Class of 2002
Art History Student Rep, 2001-2002
Loser of the Sin-ming Shaw Award
And proud friend – as so many of us were – of Filiz Eda Burhan.
Tribute from Professor Jonathan Shimony
It is with great sadness that I write about Professor Filiz Burhan’s death. What Professor Baltay wrote is exactly right – Filiz’s “sharp intellect, dry sense of humor, and courage” is a tremendous loss to all of us. I simply want to reaffirm what others have written and add a few words of praise for Filiz.
I had the privilege of teaching a FirstBridge with Filiz this past year and we became close friends thanks to our shared experience. From beginning to end she was the lighthouse and I the boat lost at sea. Her brilliance, understanding, and dedication set the highest example for the students and me. Her students were not the only ones to fear her judgment, but Filiz’s demand for rigor and precision grew from her desire to make our world a far better place than it is at present.
As you all know, Filiz had incredible intellectual courage. She also had tremendous physical courage. She suffered pain the whole time that I knew her but she never let her problems interfere with her teaching nor did she ever complain. When asked how she was, she would only say “I’m hanging in there,” which she did, heroically, until the end of our semester. She was equally courageous in every aspect of her private life always choosing what she felt was correct instead of what she knew would be easy. Once hospitalized, Filiz shielded us from what she was living, so that we would keep her beauty and strength in our memories.
As I write this I know that Filiz would find it much too pompous and serious. She talked about what she saw in the world of art and beyond with a wit and perception that I have only known in one other person – my mother. Filiz, like my mother, fought for what she believed in – peace and justice – with the power of knowledge and irony. Our world is terribly diminished by Filiz's passing.