“[Living] in Germany, I started to hear this comment ‘But you don’t look Turkish’ often. What does a Turkish person look like? What is a Turkish woman supposed to look like? What are the stereotypes people attribute to others based on their kinships, passport and nationalities?”
Işıl Eğrikavuk is a Turkish contemporary artist and scholar. Her work addresses the social issues women face in Turkey. She was recently interviewed by Artsy regarding violence towards Turkish women, and her first-hand experiences of censorship. Her work is extremely important in the current socio-political climate of Turkey, and namely in addressing the issue of femicide.
My research on Işıl Eğrikavuk began with finding her work ‘BUT YOU DON’T’ and alongside it a razor-sharp rebuttal on perceptions of Turkish women held by anyone but themselves. The accuracy of the text made me exhale with a mix of admiration and weariness. She described a struggle with identity that is universally imposed on ethnic minorities living in the West by the systems around them.
I began by asking, “How has your occupation as an artist shaped your sense of identity?”
“Being an artist has allowed me to find my senses, yet it also [allows] me to not make sense of everything in life. It showed me there are multiple ways of living, existing and being. I felt quite liberated in looking at everything from upside down, playing with the many systems and structures we are taught to live in. It taught me not to take everything for granted and the value of my imagination as my currency. Those values became my identity, not things written in my passport or ID.”
“Does living and working in the West make you feel more liberated or do you feel like you have to justify the choices you make based on your identity as a Turkish woman?”
“I don’t really have a concept of nationality, or the idea of being part of a nation. I am surrounded by people who believe in it, but for me I am a human, who happens to be born somewhere and now lives somewhere else. I am currently in Germany because I teach at the University of Arts in Berlin. I have to say, I find it quite problematic how a lot of women, or members of lgbtqia+, or artists or intellectuals from other geographies are represented in Western media, as they are often pictured in the frame of a victim who found freedom once they migrated to somewhere else. This narrative, which was quite popular in the 90’s is not true anymore. Yes, in terms of politics, human rights or gender issues a lot of countries are problematic and still need to make a lot of progress, but there are also a lot of people in those countries who resist and fight. So going back to your question, my answer is no. What liberates me in life is being an artist, and saying what I wanna say through art, and that does not depend on where I am at.”
“What do you think the future holds for women in Turkey? Is there hope?”
“Yes, definitely. As I am answering you, I am talking to some 20 other women artists in Istanbul on Whatsapp. We are collaboratively painting and designing two murals in the city as a protest against violence against women and lgbtqia+. People are still struggling, it takes time and very often it’s challenging, but nothing lasts forever. We just need to do what we can, even in small steps.”