"Turkey’s dirty stories on display"

Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Şahika Temur
Istanbul – Hürriyet Daily News

A recent exhibition in Istanbul has a ‘Dirty Story’ to tell us. It is a story that takes us on a distressing journey to the bitter past of the 1980 coup where Turkey’s victims and perpetrators, cultural discrimination, violence and hate are all portrayed through art. The past remains there and continues to challenge Turkish society

Czech-born novelist Milan Kundera says that “wherever power injures you, that becomes your identity.” These words are enough to understand why nearly 30 works are on display at the exhibition, “The Dirty Story.” They are there to uncover a glimpse of Turkey’s misty past and remind citizens of the bitter experiences the country endured in the wake of the military coup of Sept. 12, 1980.

From the exhibition (Photo: Teoman Madra):
“It is enough that the truth comes out”, video, 03.29.22 hours, Hakan Akçura, 2008
(Description: Abdülkadir Aygan was one of the PKK (Workers Party of Kurdistan) guerrillas, between 1977 and 1985 in Turkey. He was a counter-guerilla working in Turkish Armies special gladio team called JITEM between 1991 and 1999 too. This recording include all his confessions from this 22 years. Aygan is now a refugee in Sweden and living with his family under the Swedish Secret Police security. Hakan Akçura found and conviced him for this long interview and talked with Aygans three identities when he was sitting on three different chairs with three different clothes, facing three different angles. Translation into English of the video is still going on.)

With an eye to creating an artistic protest, the exhibition, running from Oct. 23 to Nov. 25 at the BM SUMA Art Center in Istanbul’s Karaköy district, displays works using techniques ranging from photography and pictures to statues and videos.

Many internationally known artists cooperated in the making of the exhibition, including: Yeşim Ağaoğlu, Hakan Akçura, Evrensel Belgin, Neriman Polat, Murat Morova, Fulya Çetin, Nalan Yırtmaç, Canan Beykal, İlhan Sayın, Hakan Gürsoytrak, Erdag Aksel, Murat Başol, Burak Karacan, Aktif Kollektif, Çağrı Saray, Extramücadele and Serpil Odabaşı.

The exhibition presents themes such as social violence, the culture of hate and discrimination, democracy, peace, the loss of social awareness and the perception of truth. Through their works, the artists have tried to demonstrate how people should brace themselves for their “dirty” stories, while attempting to demonstrate a path toward broadened freedom of speech that takes place in the political and public realms through art.

Every work has a different dirty story to tell. Some of them are rawer, such as the ones that refer to two innocent Kurdish children who were killed at the age of 12.

From the exhibition (Photo: Neriman Polat)
From the exhibition:Left behind from Ceylan to us: Shameran, Hakan Akçura, 2009

A picture of a basilisk is now the sole memory left of Ceylan Önkol [Hakan Akçura, HA], who was allegedly killed in a mortar blast in the eastern town of Lice; meanwhile, a painting depicting white birds flying in the sky around a young boy calls on viewers to commemorate Uğur Kaymaz, who was killed by security forces along with his father in the southeastern town of Kızıltepe.

The exhibition is being supported by Serpil Odabaşı, a famous painter who was born in the pre-dominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakır.

Speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review during the exhibition, Odabaşı called on people to support the government’s Kurdish initiative to solve the decades-old Kurdish issue. “Do not let more children die. Do not let more mothers suffer pain. We need a new approach to solve our problems,” said Odabaşı, who is also a member of the International Activist Artists Union.

The painting “Kız Şaban”
[Nalan Yırtmaç, HA] is another dirty story stemming from the cultural discrimination that is at the heart of society in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır. It portrays Şaban Çelen, a gay man known as Kız Şaban, who was stabbed to death along with his 35-year old roommate in Diyarbakır. Çelen was famous for going out dressed like a woman. Four years before his death, his picture was placed on the front cover of “Prostitution in the Southeast,” a book written by the journalist Ahmet Sümbül telling the stories of women and girls forced into prostitution.

One of the most striking works at the exhibition is “Tarih-i Kadim” (the Old History), a black-and-white photo that combines both Islamic themes and contemporary metaphors by portraying a gravestone with a weapon.

Murat Morova, who is known for his unique art style, conceptualized the exhibition.

According to Morova, society can clean itself only if it accords more respect to human rights and democratic opinions. He said that “Dirty Story” questioned the dirtiness of social and political incidents rather than individuals’ dirtiness.

“It is a story that tries to look into society in the context of relations. It is the dirtiness of society and social dynamics: This has been a situation that has been dictated to us,” he said.

Voice against the censor

The exhibition also presented some works that have a unique structure in their expression. Ağaoğlu, who brought an eccentric and unusual sound to her poetry, took visitors on a journey through the universe of a poem in her expressive work against the “censor.” She said that she has especially focused on the issue of the censor in her two works that are on display at the exhibition.

Ağaoğlu believes that she has not seen a drastic change in the freedom of opinion when she looks at both contemporary Turkey and its past. “I do not believe the artists today are freer than they were in the past,” stated Agaoglu, who is a member of International PEN, the worldwide association of writers.

Ağaoğlu is known for her creative performances that combine poetry and the plastic arts into a different style she calls “poem installation.”

Copies of her surrealist poem, “The Other Lead Soldiers,” were printed on yellow draft papers and left crumpled on the ground for visitors to pick up. Another work of Ağaoğlu referred to poets who were forced to remain silent by the post-coup administration.

“The Poets Remained Silent,” is a white-and-black photo depicting five poets and philosophers with covered mouths. She attached a banner containing an acid remark by Kenan Evren, the military general who led the military coup in 1980, that said he would stage a coup again if there was a need to do so.

Interest of foreigners

The exhibition also attracted foreigners with content that delved deep into Islamic culture. Among the visitors was a couple from the German city of Hamburg.

Speaking of Morova’s works, Laura Baldwin, a Web designer, expressed her deep admiration of “Tarih-i Kadim.” “I see both sides of life in this work. I see life and death. I see life and shadow. I see beauty and ugliness,” she said. “I did not get any message out of it because it gave me more than a message,” she added.

Her husband, Niklas Baldwin, a photographer, disagreed with his wife, saying he did not believe artwork aims to present a social message to society.

“If an artwork releases a message to society, it would be a cultural reflex rather than an artwork. However, it is an artwork which is reborn from the ashes of Islamic culture as it goes back to its origin,” he said.

The exhibition provided a unique opportunity to students who study art at university. A group of students from Mimar Sinan University joined other visitors at the exhibition.

Sevil Akçınar, one of the students who attended the event, said that she was pleased to see such meaningful and expressive performances rather than the meaningless and absurd works that one frequently sees in contemporary art.

Updated with French translation of this article in 12-5-2010:

La Turquie et ses sales histoires à l’affiche

Une récente exposition à Istanbul a une « sale histoire » à nous raconter. Une histoire qui nous emmène dans un voyage pénible vers le passé amer du coup d’Etat de 1980, où victimes et responsables turcs, discrimination culturelle, violence et haine sont tous présentés au moyen de l’art. Un passé qui demeure ici et continue de défier la société turque.

Le romancier Milan Kundera, d’origine tchèque, a écrit : «Partout où la force vous blesse, cela devient votre identité.» Ces mots suffisent pour comprendre pourquoi une trentaine d’œuvres figurent à cette exposition intitulée «Une Sale histoire». Ils sont là afin de lever le voile sur le passé embrumé de la Turquie et rappeler à ses citoyens les expériences amères que traversa le pays à la suite du coup d’Etat militaire du 12 septembre 1980.

Visant à créer une action de protestation artistique, l’exposition, qui se [tenait] du 23 octobre au 25 novembre 2009 au Centre d’Art BM Suma, dans le quartier de Karaköy à Istanbul, [montrait] des œuvres utilisant des techniques allant de la photographie et des tableaux aux statues et aux vidéos.

De nombreux artistes connus à travers le monde ont collaboré à la réalisation de cette exposition, parmi lesquels : Yeşim Ağaoğlu, Hakan Akçura, Evrensel Belgin, Neriman Polat, Murat Morova, Fulya Çetin, Nalan Yırtmaç, Canan Beykal, İlhan Sayın, Hakan Gürsoytrak, Erdag Aksel, Murat Başol, Burak Karacan, Aktif Kollektif, Çağri Saray, Extramücadele et Serpil Odabaşı.

L’exposition [présentait] des thèmes tels que la violence sociale, la culture de la haine et de la discrimination, la démocratie, la paix, la perte de conscience sociale et la perception de la vérité. A travers leurs œuvres les artistes ont essayé de montrer comment les gens devraient prendre à bras le corps leurs histoires « sales », tout en essayant d’ouvrir une voie vers une plus grande liberté d’expression, prenant place sur la scène politique et publique au moyen de l’art.

Chaque œuvre a une sale histoire différente à raconter. Certaines sont plus dures, comme celles qui se réfèrent à deux gamins kurdes innocents assassinés à l’âge de 12 ans.

La représentation d’un basilic est désormais le seul souvenir laissé par Ceylan Ōnkol, qui aurait été tué lors d’une explosion mortelle dans la ville de Lice, à l’est du pays ; parallèlement, un tableau montrant des oiseaux blancs volant dans le ciel autour d’un jeune garçon appelle le public à commémorer Uğur Kaymaz, qui fut tué, ainsi que son père, par les forces de sécurité à Kızıltepe, au sud-est du pays.

L’exposition [avait] le soutien de Serpil Odabaşı, un peintre réputé, né à Diyarbakır, une ville principalement peuplée de Kurdes.

Lors d’un entretien qu’il nous a accordé, durant cette exposition, Odabaşı appelle les gens à soutenir l’initiative prise par le gouvernement en faveur des Kurdes, visant à régler une question vieille de plusieurs décennies. « Ne laissons pas d’autres enfants mourir ! Ne laissons pas d’autres mères souffrir ! Nous avons besoin d’une approche nouvelle si nous voulons résoudre nos problèmes », dit-il, tout en étant membre de l’International Activist Artists Union [Union Internationale des Artistes Militants].

Le tableau intitulé Ķız Şaban propose une autre sale histoire issue de la discrimination culturelle frappant la population de Diyarbakır. Il représente Şaban Çelen, un homosexuel connu sous le nom de Kız Şaban, poignardé avec son compagnon âgé de 35 ans. Çelen était connu pour sortir vêtu en femme. Quatre ans avant sa mort, son portrait figura en couverture de l’ouvrage La Prostitution au sud-est, écrit par le journaliste Ahmet Sümbül, qui racontait des histoires de femmes et de jeunes filles contraintes de se prostituer.

Une des œuvres les plus frappantes de cette exposition [était] Tarih-i Kadim [Histoire ancienne], une photographie en noir et blanc qui combine des thèmes islamiques et des métaphores contemporaines en représentant une tombe sur laquelle figure une arme.

Murat Morova, réputé pour son style artistique singulier, a conceptualisé l’exposition.

D’après lui, une société ne peut se purifier que si elle respecte davantage les droits de l’homme et les opinions démocratiques. A ses yeux, « Une Sale histoire » met plus en question l’aspect sale d’événements sociaux et politiques que celle des individus : « Il s’agit d’une histoire qui tente d’observer la société dans le cadre relationnel. Le côté sale de la société et de la dynamique sociale : une situation qui nous fut imposée. »

Une voix contre la censure

L’exposition présentait aussi certaines œuvres comportant une structure singulière dans leur expression. Yeşim Ağaoğlu, poétesse aux sonorités excentriques et inhabituelles, conduit les visiteurs dans un périple à travers l’univers d’un poème, dans une œuvre expressive contre la « censure ». Elle s’est particulièrement centrée, précise-t-elle, sur la question de la censure à travers deux œuvres figurant dans l’exposition.

Lorsqu’elle considère tant la Turquie contemporaine que son passé, elle n’observe pas un changement drastique pour ce qui est de la liberté d’opinion. « Je ne pense pas que les artistes soient plus libres aujourd’hui qu’ils ne l’étaient par le passé », précise l’artiste, membre du PEN International, une association d’écrivains à travers le monde.

Yeşim Ağaoğlu est célèbre pour ses performances créatrices, qui combinent poésie et arts plastiques dans un style différent qu’elle nomme « installation poétique ».

Des exemplaires de son poème surréaliste, intitulé The Other Lead Soldiers [L’Autre front], ont été imprimés sur du papier brouillon jaune, déchiré sur le sol pour que les visiteurs le ramassent. Une autre œuvre d’Ağaoğlu fait référence aux poètes qui furent contraints de garder le silence par l’administration instaurée à la suite du coup d’Etat.

« Les Poètes restés silencieux » est le titre d’une photographie en noir et blanc, représentant cinq poètes et philosophes à la bouche recouverte. L’artiste a joint une légende contenant une remarque acerbe du général Kenan Evren, qui dirigea le coup d’Etat militaire de 1980, disant qu’il referait un coup d’Etat, si besoin était.

L’intérêt des étrangers

L’exposition a aussi attiré nombre d’étrangers par son contenu explorant en profondeur la culture musulmane. Parmi eux, figurait un couple d’Allemands venus de Hambourg.

Evoquant les œuvres de Murat Morova, Laura Baldwin, chef de projets internet, témoigne de son admiration pour Tarih-i Kadim : « Dans cette œuvre je vois les deux côtés de la vie. J’y vois la vie et la mort. La beauté et la laideur. » Ajoutant : « Je n’en ai retiré aucun message, car cela m’a communiqué plus qu’un message. »

Son mari, Niklas Baldwin, photographe, n’est pas d’accord avec elle, précisant qu’à son avis, une œuvre d’art vise à transmettre un message social à la société : « Si une œuvre d’art envoie un message à la société, il s’agit là davantage d’un réflexe culturel que d’une œuvre d’art. Mais c’est une œuvre d’art, née à nouveau des cendres de la culture islamique, tout en revenant à ses origines. »

L’exposition [constituait] une opportunité unique pour les étudiants qui étudient l’art à l’université. Un groupe d’étudiants issus de l’Université Mimar Sinan s’est joint à d’autres visiteurs.

Sevil Akçınar, une des étudiantes présentes, nous a dit son bonheur de voir des performances aussi signifiantes et expressives, au lieu de ces œuvres dénuées de sens et absurdes que l’on rencontre fréquemment dans l’art contemporain.

Traduction : © Georges Festa – 12.2010 – Tous droits réservés. Reproduction soumise à autorisation.

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About omosis

Selected exhibitions, activities: 2013 Artist presentation: "Being in Sweden, being an immigrant, being an artist", Adaevi, Museum of the Princes' Islands, İstanbul, Turkey "Yersiz: Kader Birliği", Mardin, Kızıltepe, Turkey “Ja jag vill leva jag vill dö”, Tegen 2, Stockholm "Vilken tur! Himlen omfamnar oss!" / "What luck! The sky embraces us!" / "Ne şans! Gökyüzü hepimizi sarıyor!" Photography Exhibition, Ideas and Innovation Fair, Stockholm "Milat" Exhibition for Hrant, Getronagan Lisesi'nden Yetişenler Derneği, Harbiye / Rumeli Han C blok 6.Kat - Beyoğlu, İstanbul 2012 Migration Connections Project 2012 Exhibition, Museum of the Princes' Islands, İstanbul, Turkey Edinburgh Middle Eastern Film Festival, Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK Artist Talking and Screening, Agent Ria, Still Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK 2011 Ars retorica, Hall the university library of Paris 8 – Saint Denis, France The Exhibition on the 20th Anniversary of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey: Where Fire Has Struck, DEPO Istanbul, Turkey 2010 PAI 2010-2011 in Thebes, Conference Center of Thebes, Greece International Media Arts Festival Videfesta’10: Archive Fever, Goethe Institute, Ankara, Turkey Temps D'Images Portugal 2010 Festival Film Award for Films on Art section "From childhood to police station" Exhibition, Free Expantion Platform, Istanbul, Turkey HEP Iran screening, Sazmanab Project, Tehran, Iran AthensArt 2010 contemporary art exhibition, Athens, Greece PAI 2010 contemporary art exhibition, Samothrace, Greece "Thistles of Sazak" screening and exhibition, 7th Karaburun Festival, Izmir, Turkey Distance Festival, London, UK "Artist Cinema", Art Beijing, China Over trubled water, Tegen 2, Stockholm, Sweden Ankara International Film Festival, "Video: Spaces of Memory", Ankara, Turkey Direct Channell, Canakkale' Turkey !F Istanbul Film Festival 2010 online program: See it yourself (This village)' Istanbul, Turkey HEP Screening, AFA Beijing, China Tornavideo, Tamirhane, Ankara, Turkey 2009 “Projected Visions: 35 years of Turkish video art” exhibition Meeting Europe - Istanbul, Wacken Exhibition Centre, Strasbourg, France HEP (Human Emotion Project) Screening, AFA @ Portuguese Bookshop Gallery, Macau, China co-exhibition "Dirty Story", BM Suma, Istanbul, Turkey HEP (Human Emotion Project) Screening, Caldas-da-Rainha, Portugal HEP Screening, Berlin, Germany "Thistles of Sazak", art performance, Karaburun, Izmir, Turkey "Istanbul-Off-Spaces" co-exhibition, Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien, Berlin, Germany co-exhibition "Interzone:Nation", Gallery Galzenica, Zagreb, Croatia HEP Screening, LaSala in Cigunuela, Spain HEP screening, Melbourne, Australia "Varning för klämrisk", Solo Exhibition, Tegen 2, Stockholm, Sweden to Ankara International Film Festival, Ankara, Turkey 2008 1st Int. Roaming Biennial of Tehran, Berlin, Germany "Hög på Golvet" group exhibition at Tegen 2, Stockholm, Sweden 1st Int. Roaming Biennial of Tehran, Istanbul, Turkey International Mail Art Project 2008, Conceptual Continuity Supermarket 2008 Art Fair with Tegen 2, Stockholm, Sweden 2007 "Fear of god" co-exhibition, Hafriyat Karakoy, Istanbul, Turkey "Bodrum Film Festival", Bodrum, Mugla, Turkey "Jag, min husses hund" group exhibition, Tegen 2, Stockholm, Sweden "Nightcomers" project in the 10th Biennial of Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey Scope NYC [PAM], Scope Art Fair, Lincoln Center, New York, USA 2006 co-exhibition "Labyrint" in Botkyrka Konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden Artist's "Sann dialog" ("Real dialogue") contemporary art activity has been started. Stockholm, Sweden Artist sent his videoperformance named as "Öppet brev till Migrationsverket" to Migrationsverket ("Open letter to Sweden Migration Board") 51', Stockholm, Sweden 2004 Artist given his art-object named as "För uppehållsstillstånd" to Migrationsverket ("For residence permission"), Istanbul, Turkey co-exhibition "Bridge from east to west", BBK Karlsruhe, Germany 2003 co-exhibition of AIAP "Hal/iç" with work name the "Difficult sleep". Kadir Has University, Istanbul, Turkey 2002 co-exhibition "Arts Plastiques" in METU Spring Festival at METU Congre Center, Ankara, Turkey co-exhibition "A travel into life" at Kargart, Istanbul, Turkey 2001 "Sometimes when I'm high, I watch TV", video performance screening, Dulcinea, Istanbul, Turkey Artist's "Solitudo" contemporary art activity has been started. A solo contemporary art exhibition with 210 participants: I want my mirrors. Dulcinea Istanbul, Turkey 2000 co-exhibition "Veritas Omnia Vincit", Istanbul, Turkey Artist's "I want my mirrors" contemporary art activity has been started, Istanbul, Turkey 1999 "2th Interbalcanic Symposium of Visual Arts" and co-exhibition, Samotrache/Greece 1998 "...self", solo exhibition. Dulcinea, Istanbul, Turkey co-exhibition "The Other", Istanbul, Turkey 1996 "Citypaintings", solo exhibition. Habitat II/NGO Forum '96 art activities, Istanbul, Turkey Publication of book of poems: "Limpin Bird" (Aksak Kus) (168 page, 81 poem, 81 picture), Istanbul, Turkey 1995 Fourth Biennial of Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey co-exhibition "Young Activity/Borders and Beyong", Istanbul, Turkey 1991 Short film maker and director, ("Everything is as it is", 24', 16 mm. Included in TRT's "Young Cinematographers" programme), Istanbul, Turkey

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