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Queer Thought, Body, and Performance: The Art of Leman Sevda Darıcıoğlu

As part of the Queer Art article series, we talked to Leman Sevda Darıcıoğlu about the transformation of queer thought and performance.

White Roses, Pink Glitter, 6 October 2020, Haus der Statistik, Berlin. As part of “Glitter and Grief” organized by Solitsoli, Nawara, Gay Shame. With the curatorial support of Performistanbul. Photo by Esra Gültekin

The performance looking after a rose at Needed: You, the book series Queer Düş’ün, Istanbul Queer Art Collective and Dream Pavillion… Leman Sevda Darıcıoğlu, who has followed a unique path in queer art with her* performances as part of Performistanbul in recent years, has actually been a part of the LGBTI+ movement for many years. As part of the Queer Art article series, Darıcıoğlu told us about the transformation of queer feminist movement that livened up in the early 2000s,  her* adventure of finding the language of art, and her* recent works. The discussion topics pointed out by Darıcıoğlu bring the transformation of queer thought and art to mind.

We know you mostly from your artworks after 2014 but you’ve been engaging in activism since the 2000s. You were involved in Lambdaistanbul and various feminist organizations. Can you tell me about that period? What kind of activism and art environment were there? What were you doing?

Yes, in the late 2000s, when dreams and goals were greater, perhaps a little romantic, I first became associated with antimilitarists and anarchists. Although masculinity and homo/trans-phobia were among the issues that are of concern, as I got tired of the endless ideological debates in this world where cis-hetero men are dominant, I started to be involved with queer activism in that time.

At the time, the LGBTI+ movement had plenty of relations with the feminist movement and organizations. It occupied itself with the policies both in the political sphere and in daily life,  produced an active discourse on Turkey’s political issues as well as organizing demonstrations against hate crimes, protest actions for businesses that have shown homo/trans-phobic attitudes, campaigns against the pathologizing of trans bodies, etc. It was a period with an intense internal agenda on issues such as ethics, aesthetics, and politics while carrying out a busy schedule full of street actions and press releases. Exhibitions, workshops, and film screenings that include artistic productions used to be held, and queer aesthetics and ethics used to be discussed.

Photographs from 2000s woman-trans street occupation, Leman Sevda Darıcıoğlu photo archive.

The first half of the 2010s were the years when the trans/queer-feminist spirit gradually became stronger. In many streets of Taksim, women-trans street occupations used to happen; poetry-readings, dances, and spoken word performances used to take place; there used to be queer clowns, and we, as women and trans people, used to change the spirit of streets with aesthetics-politics for a while. From time to time, parties open only to FLINT [female, lesbian, intersexual, trans] people used to be held, where FLINT musicians, DJs performed. I think it is also important to remember that Lambdaistanbul and Amargi, which were located on the same street for a while, functioned as social centers and the community shared the everyday/daily life as well.

In 2012, we, as the Pride Week committee, decided to bring back the Pride Week exhibitions that had not been held for several years and organized an exhibition called Pressure, Pleasure, Body [Baskı, Haz, Beden] at Cezayir with the support of dear Osman Kavala. For this exhibition, I presented my first contemporary artwork, philia, and started producing contemporary art in queer activism.

The earliest work on your website is this video-performance titled philia which dates to 2012. A work in which the breasts are bound and flattened with bandages. It may have been hard to embrace for parties both in activism and art, at the time. On the other hand, it also has some intimate aspects. How was the video-performance philia born?

The act of binding breasts, which is a part of transgender and trans male lives, needs a sense of intimacy. With philia, I wanted to bring out this privacy that I also needed, as a person who bound their breasts at that time, and turn it into a collective experience. Also, I thought that the bandage, which binds up and heals the places of the body that have been hit and crushed when in contact with the outside (and is already an accessory that exists in queer lives), would be a good reference to both our vulnerable existence and our bonds. As the community had an intense and sometimes violent relationship with watching and being watched, I also cared about the realization of this experience in front of a camera and about creating a space where the camera would not be an obstacle. With these thoughts, four of us came together after a call I made to my FLINT friends. We spent eight hours with the exercises that I formed through body, nudity, and bandaging, and that started as personal and gradually became collective. This process, in which I also had been involved until the last moment before I took the shot, managed to create a collective intimacy among us. When it came to the moment of shooting, I saw that the camera was now involved, rather than watching from the outside, and the violent relationship of watching/being watched was transformed.

After that, my friend from the community, dear Kaan Karacehennem, got involved. I explained to him the meaning of the work for me, the aesthetics and the language of the video in my dreams, and then Kaan made an amazing edit, created the language I had dreamt of from the very beginning and added the last magic touches of philia.

philia, Leman Sevda Darıcıoğlu, Video, 2012

Let’s move on to Queer Düş’ün book series by Sel Publishing. When did you meet queer theory? There were books on queer theory by Metis Kitap (publishing house) before, but as a series, I think Queer Düş’ün series holds an important place. How did this series come about? How did it contribute to the queer thought in Turkey? How do you see this series when you look at it today? How did it contribute to the academy?

I met queer theory in 2009 during my master’s degree in sociology at Mimar Sinan University in the course of dear Sibel Yardımcı. We were dreaming of making a queer theory series with Ari P. Büyüktaş, Gülkan ‘Noir’ Ahıska and Berfu Şeker, who found each other in the trans-queer feminist movement I mentioned above. The LGBTI+ movement was already acting with a queer political understanding, but we were far behind in translating queer sources. We set out for Queer Düş’ün with the idea that the translation of the literature will feed the queer politics and the way of living and guide us in many discussions from daily life to politics. In the process, Amy Spangler also joined us. Within the scope of the series, from 2012 to 2019, we have published Turkish translations of English and French queer works, and compilations consisting of articles by queer theorists translated into Turkish and articles written in Turkish. I think Queer Düş’ün is important in terms of providing translations of many queer terms/concepts into Turkish and feeding the queer theoretical foundation of the LGBTI+ community of Turkey. Besides, I read creating a series devoted to queer theory in a publishing house as a success story in itself, especially in Turkey in 2012, when LGBTI+ existences were not yet as visible as they are today and they were not as involved in public life as they are today, and the symbolic meaning of this series was great for us.

Unfortunately, we could not fully carry out the program as we wanted since the journey we set out at the beginning reached a long-term lack of communication with the publishing house, and we decided to terminate the series after the involvement of the publishers’ names in some incidents that were not possible for us, who are interested in queer politics, to approve [1]. But Queer Düş’ün continues to be taught in courses at the academy, a reference to articles written in the field, and a resource for the community.

Istanbul Queer Art Collective (Left to right: Leman Sevda Darıcıoğlu, Onur Gökhan Gökçek, Seda Ergül, Tuna Erdem), before the Kintsugi performance, 2016 Photograph by Ateş Benek

I think 2014 was critical for you. You joined the Istanbul Queer Art Collective. You did your first live performance at Block Art Space. Let me ask you theoretically first. Your first work, philia, is also a performance-based work but in one of our conversations, you mentioned that at one point you said, “I will do performances from now on”. How did you decide to continue with performance art? How did queer thought and performance come together for you?

Yes, I also see 2014 as a turning point in my life, looking from where I am today. Although philia is performance-based, it is also a video work and I don’t use my own body in it. The decision to perform for the rest of my life is based on our first live performance after I joined the Istanbul Queer Art Collective. Experiencing that there are no boundaries between the audience and the work, the power of that directness of performance art, which I was only interested in theoretically before that, made me feel more satisfied than meeting the audience through another branch of art. Bringing queer thought and performance art together came into view after I joined Istanbul Queer Art Collective, of which the name is self-explanatory. Because IQAC was already interested in the combination of these two areas.

How did you get involved in the collective? Can you briefly describe your work with the collective and that period?

At the time, Istanbul Queer Art Collective, which was founded by my close friends, dear Tuna Erdem, Seda Ergül and Onur Gökhan Gökçek, were re-performing the Fluxus performances with a queer perspective. They were fascinating me both theoretically and artistically with their works. With this fascination, I joined the collective with Burak Serin in 2014 and performed as part of it until 2017. In fact, at the beginning, the plan was to record the performances with photos and videos for both of us. But there was going to be a video performance on May 31, on the anniversary of Gezi protests, and I said I should be in it, and I skipped recording and joined the performers for the first time. In August, I made my first live performance in front of an audience as a member of the collective with Kintsugi at Blok Art Space.

Istanbul Queer Art Collective is very important and valuable as an art collective founded by queer artists from Turkey and producing works that queerize the art world, which is heteropatriarchal just like the world we’re living in. Also, for me, it was infinitely beautiful and nurturing to produce work with Tuna, Seda and Onur and to design many of the performances we performed together with Tuna and Seda.

Balloon: In Memoriam to Umut Sürel A.K.A Faciya von Tiss (2014, Istanbul Queer Art Collective) , Screen shots from the video by Burak Serin.

How did you start doing your own performances after IQAC? For instance, you participated in Neredeeen Nereye exhibitions held as part of Pride Week. I think the festival you attended with IQAC in 2016 was a decisive event for you. And then what happened?

While I was a part of IQAC in 2014, I also felt the need to produce my own solo works. Until 2012-2013, I was mainly taking photos and videos. Before I joined the Collective, my entire archive was destroyed along with an external disk. Stumbling, I tried to continue with photos, but the experience of the sudden disappearance of digital material, losing my history in one day, first gave me pain, and then a loss of motivation. The excitement of discovering performance art allowed me to make art again, and I began searching for my own language. On the one hand, the queer aesthetics and language we created with IQAC were so strong that it was challenging to create a powerful world of images when I went looking for my own language. At the Sound Acts festival in Athens, where we participated with IQAC in 2016, I met Quimera Rosa, who used materials such as needles and urine in their performances. With this friendship, I got through my needle phobia and started to find my singular path, my own language, in my performance practice. I have performed using materials that cause permanent/temporary damage to the body, such as injection needles, surgical sewing needles, scalpels etc., by perceiving the body as a laboratory of fears, boundaries, and emotions. In order to take this body research one step further, to address its limits and potential more deeply, after a while, I began using time as a tool and turned to performances whose duration extends from 4-5 hours to 1 month. That’s how I can roughly summarize the process that brought me to this day.

In recent years, I’ve been doing performances in which the action takes up less space and I leave myself in a single bodily movement to further deepen my bodily research. I put my body in stricter restraints, explore the emotional and physical effects of these restraints on the body, and open up the image I create to lose my control over it.

Dream Pavillion, “Unexpected Territories”, 26. TÜYAP International Art Fair, Istanbul, 2016. Dreamers: Leman Sevda Darıcıoğlu, Yekhan Pınarlıgil, Murat Alat. Works from left to right: Derin Cankaya, Deniz Erol, Zeynep Mar, MK Yurttaş, Şafak Şule Kemancı, Elif Keskinkılıç, Elif Domanic. Photo: Dream Pavilion archive.

At the TÜYAP / Artist Art Fair, which was held simultaneously with the TÜYAP Book Fair, you presented an exhibition titled Dream Pavilion (Hayal Pavyonu). How did you decide on this work? How did the artist list come about? On the one hand, despite all its radicality, I saw that it was embraced at the fairgrounds. There were works of many people in a small space, how did you create an exhibition method in terms of curation? Why did you call it as pavilion?

In 2016, Yekhan Pınarlıgil and Murat Alat contacted me at TÜYAP / Artist the International Contemporary Art Fair, with the desire to create a queer art space in Unexpected Territories (Umulmadık Topraklar) curated by Ezgi Bakçay. They decided to use the pavilion aesthetic with the idea of approaching queer in a local way and had already chosen the name Dream Pavilion. In order to create the local queer space of our dreams, we contacted queer activists and artists who were living in Turkey, some of whom had not shown their work before in the field of contemporary art. We covered visual arts by including sound, cinema, and design. In this way, we have created a space that combines different art disciplines and brings activism and art together. 

36 artists/activists exhibited their works in Dream Pavilion, which we set up with red walls, a disco ball and feather boas on the seats, and where we played old songs of singers such as Ajda Pekkan, Nilüfer and Seyyal Taner. The video artists shared the two screens; most of the photographers shared a notebook, installations/objects/sculptures, photographs, and drawings filled the Pavilion‘s walls and space, and finally, the space created a constantly living and a dynamic experience in itself with its performance and film screening program.

Our intention to move away from the classical curatorial approach led us to tell the artists/activists we reached what kind of space we wanted to create and ask how they wanted to contribute to this space, rather than acting as a selection committee. After that, we placed the sounds corresponding to our voice in such a way that they did not interfere with each other’s space but shared the space. In this process, we chose to call ourselves ‘Dreamers’ instead of curators. In summary, we created a dream, and we realized it together with artists and activists, who had the equivalent of our dream in their dream world. In this way, we echoed a queer voice from Turkey in Beylikdüzü, a conservative place on the periphery of Istanbul and far from art venues and encountered both intense audience interest and the transformation of the audiences who entered the Dream possibly with the feelings of ‘familiarity’, ‘communality’ that comes from the pavilion aesthetic and the songs. We witnessed tough guys entering the space with their arms open on both sides wore the feather boas on the seats.

Live performance, 28 days without interval “Needed: You, a 672 Hours Long Live Process” curated by Simge Burhanoğlu, 16 February-16 March 2018 İstanbul, Photos by Gülbin Eriş, Kayhan Kaygusuz

You did a performance called looking after a rose (bir güle bakmak) within the scope of Needed: You, 672 Hours Long Live Process (İhtiyaç: Sen 672 saat canlı süreç) organized by Performistanbul. This work was at the beginning of 2018 and it was a difficult time for the country. There had been many terrorist attacks, Pride marches had started to be banned, elections were very difficult. What do you think looking after a rose meant in such a period?

looking after a rose exactly came from what we were experiencing in those days, the increasing totalitarianism of the regime in which we have lived, the claustrophobia and the feeling of helplessness that it has created. For 28 days, confining myself in an area of 7 square meters, I opened isolation up to research. This area was separated from the audience area by a filtered glass, and I had a door where the audience could enter one by one when it was open. If there was someone in there other than me, the other person who wanted to enter had to wait. I spent 28 days looking after a rose which I cut at sunrise every day from my little rose trees in the soil which the floor was covered with, and at sunset, I opened a cut on my arm with a scalpel, that I called a time cut, and hung the rose on the wall. So, as the days passed, scalpel marks on my arm and roses hung on the walls accumulated, the diary I kept open for the audience to read was full, and I completed 28 days, which corresponds to a lunar cycle, without leaving that room or talking.

I put a book from Phaidon publications called Queer Art & Culture inside to give a sign about what I wanted to tell in this performance, which was originated from the feelings of being stranded and trapped which is caused by country politics; I assumed the book, standing inside sometimes with some pages open, sometimes only the cover visible, as a kind of sculpture that provided a reference to the queer community in the context of my work.

Public Monument with the collaboration of Şevval Kılıç and Derin Cankaya, 2014, Istanbul

Let’s look at your work, Golden Butterflies (Altın Kelebekler). You exhibited at Badischer Kunstverein in the exhibition “unspeakable home, enchanting companions” (“yer yeksan, bahar ittifak”) curated by Derya Bayraktaroğlu. Could you tell us about the Golden Butterflies and the exhibition in general?

Golden Butterflieswas a public monument that I performed on Ülker Street in 2014 with LGBTI+ activists Şevval Kılıç and Derin Çankaya. We put 99 golden butterflies on an empty wall in the street with a golden colored spray and wrote “To the 99 golden girls who saw the golden age of Ülker Street” next to it. We can think of Golden Butterfliesas a work of public intervention that remembers the state of Ülker Street as a trans ghetto in the 90s, sends greetings to this memory, and strives to include the trans past in the present of the street. A month after the date we performed, when I went to Ülker Street, to see that the butterflies were still there but the writing had been painted over with gray paint, told a lot to me about queer life in Turkey. Apparently, the people of the street wanted only their ‘darlingness’ by erasing the origin where the butterflies came from.

Public Monument with the collaboration of Şevval Kılıç and Derin Cankaya, 2014, Istanbul (One month after bringing the monument to life, the wall which had the text of the dedication “TO THE 99 GOLDEN GIRLS WHO SAW THE GOLDEN AGE OF ÜLKER STREET” on it, has been wiped clean, which, by itself is enough to summarize the policy of violence against, and invisibility of trans women in Turkey today.)

Derya Bayraktaroglu is one of my friends I met in the queer/trans-feminist spirit of the 2010s, which I briefly mentioned above. We were talking from time to time about that we, as a group of people, planted the seeds of many discussions that are now on the agenda of Turkey’s queer movement, and how insufficient the efforts to convey our discussions and experiences or to reveal this unknown history we have experienced were. One day, Derya reached out to me by saying that they were attempting to present an exhibition and public programming concerning the intersection of art, aesthetics and queer feminist activism at Karlsruhe’s Badischer Kunstverein in Germany.

Thus, with the efforts of Derya, “unspeakable home, enchanting companions” (“yer yeksan, bahar ittifak”) was formed with the participation of Nur Koçak, Nil Yalter & Melis Tezkan, Istanbul Queer Art Collective (Tuna Erdem, Seda Ergül), Gökçe Yiğitel, Deniz Gül, Gülkan Noir, Gözde İlkin, Tümay Göktepe, Ugemfo and me. In a field where the line between art and activism was blurred, it was an exhibition that revealed ‘that kind of’ feminisms that established an aesthetic policy and/or used a political aesthetic that showed a stance against polarized thoughts, normativity, and neoliberalism.

I reproduced the Golden Butterfliesfor the exhibition by going after the question “How should a work done for the public space be displayed inside a museum?” and in a very valuable sharing of ideas with Derya. In the museum, I presented the photograph of the monument taken immediately after it was made and the photograph of its censored version one month later, in the form of an installation consisting of many printouts of the photographs and I left the poster of the work on the edge of the wall so that the audience would return the Butterflies back to the street. Also, the website we designed for the exhibition including an audio recording of Dear Şevval, who lived there in the days when the street was a trans ghetto, telling her own life as a trans woman and the story of the street and an online map where the audiences could mark their location if they put up posters on the street.

Golden Butterflies has been reproduced for “unspeakable home, enchanting companions”exhibition curated by Derya Bayraktaroğlu in Badischer Kunstverein, in Karlsruhe, Germany.

You are working with substances that cause permanent or temporary damage while using your body. Also, your performances are mostly durational. Your performances push the physical and emotional boundaries of your body. What’s the point of doing such experiments on the body for you? What are you looking for or trying to find?

As I mentioned above, to me, my works, which involved harm/pain/intervention, began more from an investigation of fear and emotional limits than physicality. It was emancipation, expanding boundaries, increasing potentials that I searched for at the beginning. I created my works depending on the idea of the body is a residue, a trace of personal and sociopolitical history(s), and with the materials I use, I  delved into fears, boundaries, emotions through my own body. Using time was the touch that crowned this research; with the long-durational performances, it has been the time itself that began to interfere with the body. I have investigated and am still investigating the effects, limits, boundaries and possibilities of the time-taking aspect of the body. This relationship between body and time gives me information about being alive, about being a living social organism. It all comes from my curiosity about what it means to have a body, to live as a body. By this, I must say that I perceive the body as a physical, spiritual/psychological, and energetic whole.

This is not a research  to reach at some point; I’m not trying to get into anything specific. Since this determination will disable the power of imagination, it also disables the possibilities of the body. What I’m trying to do is to connect a body-centered investigation with the concepts that I’m interested in, that I’m worried about, that I want to question, that I want to echo a questioning that comes out of it. And in this way, to awaken a feeling somewhere in the audience’s body, to call the world to slow down, to have a deep and real connection with the body, with emotions and feelings.

When you work on the body, you are using Giorgio Agamben’s concept of ‘homo sacer’. I think you’re reading this concept in terms of the erasure, cleansing of queer bodies from public spaces. Where does the concept of ‘homo sacer’ stand in your work?

Yes, Agamben’s ‘homo sacer’, that is, the human being killed but not sacrificed, gives me a glimpse of how power is established in social life and how power relations work so that I can look at the sociopolitical social order. This concept refers to people in situations where biological life lasts, but social life, that is, the context in which human life finds its meaning, is unsustainable; in other words, situations where the life of being has no equivalent in terms of social perception, and by this way, where the life is lived in a kind of purgatory, are the elements that make a person a homo sacer. Although I consider this concept in my practice through groups such as refugees, LGBTI+s, immigrants who are left out of the privileged space in the world of social privileges, in the world we live, everyone can be a homo sacer, and they are becoming one. Every person who does not comply with social norms or chains of command is at risk of becoming a homo sacer.  

Although the issues I address in each of my works change, it is important for me to question the domination of power over life. And homo sacer is one of my main tools to help me find my direction in this interrogation.

Let’s talk about your video work The Visit (Ziyaret). You go to the grave of Murtaza Elgin and take care of it, Murti is one of the rediscovered figures of the LGBTI+ movement in Turkey. How do you think Murti’s life means to us when we look at it from today?

If we look at today’s political movements and political thoughts, for a while, we see that it becomes crucial to reconsider the past, to reveal the story of subjects, groups who have been left out of the dominant historiography and pushed into silence and invisibility, or to reveal what the events/situations/persons actually correspond to in the stories that the dominant view interprets in its own order. This means both historicizing the existences other than the sovereign and understanding how the sovereign prevails. “We are taking back what had/has been ours” from history, we are finding out our roots, our branches, and we see how the order that works today was established. So today we can open up ourselves to another kind of community imagination.

That’s how I interpret our recent rediscovery of Murtaza’s story. Through Murtaza, we can see both the beginning of Turkey’s HIV/AIDS politics and what kind of a structure that popular culture is. Murtaza Elgin is a person whose entire private life had been turned into a public domain by disclosure without his consent. As one of the vocalists of İbrahim Tatlıses, he was a person of the world of celebrities. With the announcement of his being HIV+, he had a story that we encountered isolation and discrimination at all points, also including the Ministry of Health putting himself in the Quarantine Ward of a hospital for a while. Besides, when I talk about Murti, I find it important to not tell it only as a story of a victim. It is significant to see his maneuvers that took advantage of this strange reputation brought by HIV; to remember his sold-out concert at the İzmir International Fair and his album, Allah Allah Taverna, that I learned from the research of dear Serdar Soydan about him. Even though his entire life had been taken away, with these two maneuvers, Murtaza has become a subject who had turned his conditions to his advantage and shows us that he was a strong person who cannot be imprisoned in the rhetoric of victimhood.

In 2019, at the Istanbul exhibition of the EUROPACH project, with the invitation of dear Alper Turan, who was one of the curators, I decided to find Murti’s grave when I participated in the exhibition HIVstories: Living Politics (HİV Hikayeleri: Yaşayan Politikalar). I knew the information that he was buried in Zincirlikuyu Cemetery from newspaper reports on his funeral. After getting the information about which lot he was lying in from the cemetery archive, I searched for his grave on that lot of the cemetery for nearly three hours. With the thought that they could not have buried him next to the families so they must have thrown him into some asides, I started from the edges and that’s why the process got a little bit longer. After that, we looked for all the gravestones with two cemetery workers, but we didn’t find him for a long time. When we found it, we saw that the name stone had been broken and the grave was covered in weeds. Then, doing what I had to do, I paid one of the workers to clean his grave and paste the stone. I think Murti has taken a place in life again with the re-existence of his grave, which had almost turned into a non-existent grave previously.

Ironically, the exhibition HIVstories: Living Politics, in which I exhibited The Visit, met with the audience during the pandemic of the century and was closed within a few days due to social measures taken for public health.

Live performance, 2020, 7 hours, Apartment Project, Berlin, With the curatorial support of Performistanbul. Photo by Derin Cankaya

You’d been in a residency program in Berlin for a while. How do queer life and art in Berlin compare with those of Turkey?

Yes, between July and the end of December, I participated in the Istanbul-Berlin artist program, supported by the Culture and Europe Department of the Berlin Senate, carried out in partnership with nGbK, ZK/U, and DEPO Istanbul, and I’ve decided to continue my practice here during the program. I came to Berlin in early March for a month as part of a queer art program run by a private sponsor. Although I have been here for ten months and restrictions have been relaxed for a period with cases falling in spring and summer, Berlin is certainly not the usual Berlin due to pandemic conditions.  For this reason, I can say that during my time here, I was not able to enter a lot of environments in terms of neither art nor queer sociability, and not able to meet new people. But in general, I can say that I have come across an environment that is very dependent on funding for both producing policy and art. The abundance of available funding sources is of course a great advantage artistically, especially compared to Turkey’s drought in terms of artistic support, Berlin seems to promise a paradise. But of course, entering this paradise brings with it the processes of constantly writing projects, making applications, and waiting for their results to realize your art. On the other hand, there is serious competition in the field of art, as artists constitute almost a significant part of the population of Berlin. Yet the field of art in Berlin is a field where possibilities are much more diverse, and where censorship or self-censorship generally do not exist. But at the same time, there are also a number of boundary lines, discourses, and issues that are not accepted as legitimate or cannot find resources in this area. The distinction between the gallery world and independent art venues is often much sharper than in Turkey, many times I felt more commercial motives in exhibitions held in galleries, which is essentially the case for many cities in Europe. But because of the abundance of art funds, there are quite a lot of independent art spaces in general. 

Berlin is a city where the queer community is active in the artistic sphere, which of course makes me feel very good. In general, although solidarity is a widely pronounced concept in Berlin, I must say that I have not encountered a practice of solidarity and a real sense of community like in Turkey. Queer lives mostly seem engaged with a sense of individualism here, and the point that gave me the most confusing feelings has been that many ways of activism/being political and production are also professionalized, and many queer person in a radical political discourse almost don’t take on any responsibility without a payment.  Of course, a large amount of funds allocated to the field of human rights give this opportunity to the people, and it is nice that everyone here gets a reward for the effort they put in for the things that we, in Turkey, have had to spend money out of our pockets from time to time. But I see that this functioning creates queer discourse only within the areas permitted by the neoliberal system, and I find it strange that being political and creating something are so professionalized.

Public intervention in Kotti, Kreuzberg, Stitching on Fabric with Evil Eyes Beads, 75 x 100 cm, 2020, Berlin

Can you tell me a little about the projects that you will participate in in the new period? You performed for the murdered Greek drag artist and HIV activist Zak Kostopoulos. What else are you planning?

Yes, in October, I performed a 5-hour-long performance titled White Roses, Pink Glitter (Beyaz Güller, Pembe Simler) to commemorate Zak Kostopoulos, a queer and HIV activist who was killed in Athens two years ago, in an event called Glitter and Grief organized by the groups SoliTsoli, Nawara and Gay Shame. I spent for 5 hours, lying on a table, and holding three white roses in one hand, covering my body with pink glitters from head to toe in White Roses, Pink Glitter to express that the resistance to neo-fascism was carried out by queers, pointing to the present day with images referencing the Nazi era. 

Again in October, I hanged one-and-a-half meters by seventy-five centimeters chintz-like fabric on which I sewed the writing ‘İBNE’ with evil eye beads on Ayşe Erkmen’s building Am Haus (aka ‘-mişler, -muşlar binası’), which has become a symbol of Turkey’s diaspora in Berlin and stands on the corner of Oranienstrasse and Mariannenstrasse in Kreuzberg. İBNE found its source from hearing ‘ibne’-wprd often as a curse among the Turkish-speaking population of the region and a will to greet the Turkish-speaking queer community of the region, which has created safe spaces for non-Western queers in the district. Thinking like a kind of protective totem, the work I sewed with evil eye beads and designed as a public intervention quickly intervened in its public. I chose to take down my work 36 hours after I hung on when a cis-hetero man working in a bar under the building, said that some people were triggered in the neighborhood, and if I wouldn’t take down my work, the window of the person who had opened their house to İBNE could be attacked, and I would be responsible for what happened. After that, I wrote a text in which I shared both my references and intentions and the discussions it created, and working with my designer friend, dear Ece Eldek, I turned it into a digital booklet entitled The announcement of my public intervention work İBNE. Currently, the QR code which belongs to this digital booklet can be found as stuck on the billboards of streets, subways in many districts of Berlin.

We have been working on a festival titled Madi Ancestors, which is about the heritage we have as queers from Turkey, for a while. Yener Bayramoğlu and I are curating and Gizem Oruç (aka 6zm) is coordinating the festival. Our festival, which we organized with the support of Partnerschaft für Demoktatie in Friedrichshain-support of Kreuzberg and Interflugs,  within the cooperation of GLADT E.V., emerged from the questionings of ourselves with Yener on our relationship with Turkey’s queer icons and the legacy they left behind, after the death of Seyfi Dursunoğlu in August, unfortunately.

Madi Ancestors became a project that we started with the idea that this was our legacy, even though Zeki Müren, Seyfi Dursunoğlu (aka Huysuz Virjin) and Bülent Ersoy did not stand in a position that embraced the LGBTI+ community and they were not in an attitude of delivering their legacy to us, but their presence in popular culture left us a legacy. In fact, we intended to hold a one-day festival in Berlin with film/video screenings, panels, and music performances, but with the arrival of the second wave, social and cultural events stopped, and we put our project into an online festival format. Our website, which we will share soon, is currently under design. There will be films/videos commemorating our three Queer idols, a podcast series with queer immigrants of Turkey from different generations who live in Berlin and have created a space for Queers in nightlife and the cultural scene, and a music section with a compilation of the songs of our three idols performed by İpek İpekçioğlu, Anthony Hüseyin ve Gizem Oruç, who are Queer musician immigrants from Turkey. We will also share the Zeki Müren Hattı, directed by Beyza Boyacioglu and Jeff Soyk, as part of our festival.

At the end of January, I will show my new work at the Performing Arts Festival entitled Unboxing Masculinities, organized by the Department of Contemporary Theatre Practice at the University of Osnabrück. I want to keep the details of this work as a surprise, for now, this will be an seven-hour live performance that tries to break the codes of the binary gender system, based on how the performance of masculinity is physically established. Besides, we are in contact with Alexandra Weltz-Rombach, who runs the Galerie Auslage, which I met during my first months in Berlin, to produce an installation and a long-durational performance for Galerie Auslage. One of these projects, which will be created with the cooperation of Performistanbul and Galerie Auslage, will be realized within the scope of the “The Burdensome Richness of Feminist Artists in Berlin” program of the gallery. And the other will be actualized with the support of Goethe Institute and with the co-coordination of Ferhan Istanbullu. I will be inspired by the work of a feminist director from Berlin in the projects I will create in Galerie Auslage, a curatorial laboratory that pursues the alternative history of Berlin, which is destroyed by the pressure of monoculture based on trade, urban transformation and land jobbing, and that relates itself with the principles of DIY culture, temporariness and experimentality. Let these recent projects be a surprise for now.

Besides, I am in contact with various art fields and institutions in Berlin for some projects that I will perform in the coming periods. Of course, these are slightly foggy days due to the pandemic conditions, but in this process, dear Performistanbul, which has represented me since 2017 and is the main assistant in my performances, and has also curated many of them, supports me by creating a Berlin team. Despite the uncertainty of the situation we are in, I can say that new exciting projects are on the horizon in Berlin with the support of Performistanbul.

Translated by Erdem Gürsu

[1] Explaining the problems we have experienced within the process and the events that forced us to make this decision, you can reach our decision about the breakup of Queer Düş’ün here.

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