She looks at me from the outside with her beautiful eyes and Afro hair tied from two sides. Maximum 4 years old, I imagine. She stands there with her family. I look at her in the eye and say “Come in” with an inviting hand gesture. She smiles, but remains indecisive; I say again “Come in”. They decide to come inside of an art gallery in the city centre of Utrecht. We enter just a minute before them. Her mom smiles and says “Thanks”. Each of them looks beautiful inside out, and you can feel their positive energy. She and her brother run upstairs, check some works, take photos with their dad and come downstairs. She remains shy; while I talk to her mom. She shares that she’s Kurdish/Dutch. I get excited: “Ooh, I’m Kurdish/Turkish!” We connect easily and share our stories of moving to Utrecht. Hers, slightly similar to mine, is partly related to her studies and relationship. Meanwhile kids are asking questions about some works. I feel that there is some association going on in their mind, not sure if it was what the artist wanted to communicate. But it doesn’t matter because they do process it. The topic moves to visiting galleries with kids. She shares that they are always a bit anxious to enter because kids might run around and accidentally hurt an artwork. I understand them but also find myself dropping a statement: “If art cannot reach to children, why does it even exist?”
Afterwards I thought: how could I say such thing so comfortably? I still don’t know. What I meant wasn’t loading a mission on art to have a social message. I meant that art should be welcoming everyone including children. That’s something different than pleasing the eye and/or ear of everyone. That’s something regardless in which manner or concept it’s created, art should communicate, especially with children, that: “If I am here, one day, your art can be here too.”
This is why I am bringing some words together: To tell the crucial role of art in creating a better world for the coming generations.
It took me five years to fully reclaim my space here, also to myself. Five years of handling subtle discrimination, being treated as exotic and answering odd questions. Five years of being exposed to the cold tone of immigration law which sees humans as individual cases to be concluded as soon as possible and ignores their existence as a human being. Just like many other immigrants, I know its dehumanizing and “naturalising” language. I have been the inferior to deserve living here. Think about it: In the age where anyone can be self-employed, how many of Dutch or European citizen zzp’ers had to earn certain amount of money per month at the beginning years of their business? Or how many of them had to have stickers on their passport, like an import product, to maintain their work until the decision is made?
I’m not stressing here an existing person, an object, a governmental building that you can see, touch or smell. I’m asking your attention to focus on the dominant idea of authority. Its complicated, intense, intimidating existence. The insecurity of being “The Other”. The Panopticon energy around: knowing that your any move is or can be watched; it can be a justification for you to be declared as “illegal”. A mind-set of considering everything cautiously with “Can I actually do that? Would it be legal in my case?”
I had many breakdowns because I knew I produced a good work and wanted a better appreciation and recognition. I also had moments of taking some words from governmental letters personal and doubting myself whether I really deserved to be here. I thought that maybe I should have gone back like I’m always asked: Do you think to go back some day? All those times, I healed my soul with writing, and creating artworks. I documented demonstrations but also occasions like celebration of monarchy to see how I can, as an “outsider”, express what’s happening in The Netherlands. What does my eye catch? I clicked on my shutter every time I thought it would matter to immortalize that exact second.
Art is my way of existence and expressing my soul to the outer world. I use it solely to understand and connect to another spirit because I don’t know any better. My words and my photos has been my best friends when I couldn’t breathe or cry, when words were stuck in my throat and I had to be silent. Thanks to art, I wanted to transform all those feelings into a creative outcome. Next to that, activism has been a part of my life since I’ve known myself. I remember when I was a young girl; I saw that someone threw a banana to a black football player in Turkey during a game. The incident made it to the prime time news. I hardly recall who that person was, or where and when exactly it happened, but it was like yesterday that I remember the rage boiling inside of me. I knew deep down whatever I do when I grow up, I would aspire to treat everyone in equality with respect. This brought me praising human-to-human interaction at any time possible. Eventually such interactions have been the outer sources of my healing process: my Dutch friends who got upset with me about my case, listened to me for thousands of times, and wiped my tears; the person at IND who went beyond the box of rules, shared a good conversation and said goodbye with “Next time bring some baklava!”
These words might sound optimistic to some of you and maybe you’re right. Yet I am fully aware of the rotten system we’re living under. Many corrupted leaders are ruling and ruining different countries. As if we are in one dystopian film, we hope to come to an end but the next thing occurs. I know. But the second I surrender to this darkness, I will become invisible, won’t exist nor will I matter. And I’m not going to do that. Because I know I wouldn’t be able to express myself here today, if it wasn’t for the activists and artists who paved the road decades ago for my generation, even though they had known that they might not see the revolution coming.
And look where we are now! Finally at the moment of decolonizing our minds! Despite all increasing racism, hatred, discrimination, corrupted leaders, crisis, and gap amongst different social status, the voices of unheard are being heard and hailed more and more. There are Black Heritage Tours in multiple countries including The Netherlands, to hear the history from those who should have told it in the first place. How can we not see the role of artists and activists in this?
They showed us the real power is within the people.
If art could give this encouragement, faith and hope to me and people like me, it can do the same to the others as well. If it wasn’t for the artists like Nina Simone or the activists like Angela Davis, I wouldn’t have realized my pain can be my strength, my artistic voice could be my tool to speak my truth. And that’s where art is a tool to break this rotten system. It doesn’t have to save the world, but it needs to open the doors to more people, especially to young girls and boys. It needs to show what they can achieve and tell that they can be at wherever they dream to be. Art can be a tool for a better human-to-human interaction. Because regardless being able to legally exist in somewhere, the connection to another human is what will strengthen us. There is nothing more powerful than people who are willing to listen, understand and support each other.
The systems fail, the rules get broken, and the tyrants fall but people remain. As long as we keep the doors open for the ones coming after us, as long as art exists more in real world instead of behind closed doors of ‘borreltjes’ with small groups of people, we find a way to exist and persist. Thanks to Brainwash Festival and Mister Motley for inviting me today. I want to dedicate this very moment to my professors, including but not limited to (unfortunately the list is very long): Murat Sevinc, Pinar Ecevitoglu, Zeliha Etoz, and Faruk Alpkaya. They were dismissed back in my faculty because they fought for human rights and their morals. They inspire me every day to work for a better version of what I can be.
All power to all the people.