Text: Oskar Czapiewski
In Turkey, family is one of the most significant pillars that build national identity. It is enough to mention that the greatest hero of the Turkish Republic is called the Father of the Turks (Atatürk). Once they become familiar, they quickly become a part of the family, a situational family; non-patchwork, non-nuclear, unrelated, but supportive.
Thus, families in Turkey resemble a social construct of ephemera; they stretch the boundaries of familial care, support, and a sense of community beyond blood ties. Willingly or unwillingly, Turkish individuals incorporate their acquaintances into the community through a verbal performative act by calling you Kanka (“blood brother”), Abi (an older brother), Abla (an older sister), Teyze (an aunt), or Amca (an uncle). Before this happens (if at all), expatriates, refugees, and tourists are trapped in an opposite position – in the figure of the stranger (Yabancı). The whole process raises many questions. How to assimilate the newcomer? How to make the stranger feel at home in a foreign land? How do we give them space for self-expression? What can they teach us? How can ‘they’ become ‘us’, and if they really should?
A perfect example of this pro-immigrant artivism is the ‘EV’ exhibition. The aim of its curator, Darico Hasaya, was to create a place where war refugees, immigrants, and locals (often inner migrants) could feel part of a community. After all, pardon the cliché, there is no family without a home.
Awareness, Interaction, Healing
The exhibition took place from July 8th to 11th at Istanbul REM Art Space, featuring the works of over 30 artists from 11 countries. Despite its compact size (around 40 square meters), the space was consistently filled with visitors during these four intense days. Approximately 150 individuals attended the exhibition, with some returning daily, gradually becoming part of this ephemeral family. Many of the attendees actively participated in shaping and contributing to the event’s process.
Routine events, such as the morning meditation led by Indonesian meditation teacher Gunesh Ovchiyeva, played a significant role in promoting intercultural integration and strengthening bonds among participants. The official opening of the exhibition began with an excerpt from Ivan Vyrypaev’s renowned drama, “Sugar.” Meditation, as a practice of being present at the moment, harmonized seamlessly with the essence of this work. Following the inauguration and the performance “Building a New Home,” participants were attuned to subsequent events, including performances by musicians Erdem Ersoy and Arda Örem. It was a unique opportunity to see two artists off-stage, in a homely atmosphere.
Gunesh Ovchieva’s meditation session.
Erdem Ersoy presented songs from his latest album ‘Black Sheep.’ What caught my attention the most was that a performance in such conditions is completely different from the classical-hierarchical order of a concert, where ‘fans’ and musicians are separated by security, a set of barriers, and the inherent feeling of being only a part of the mass worshipping the artist, who, in turn, also loses out on this order, not being able to meet the people who are (or should be) so precious to him.
Erdem Ersoy and Arda Örem’s concert
In the case of Erdem Ersoy and Arda Örem’s performance, we were able to witness how, in an egalitarian environment – at home – a hierarchy-free relationship between artists and audiences is being created. Musicians talked to the listeners in between songs, exchanged opinions, and adapted the repertoire to the prevailing atmosphere. After all, a concert has no right to exist when one of these parts (either the artists or the listeners) is missing. These musicians rehearsed and prepared for concerts within the EV exhibition space, underscoring the comprehensive nature of the artists’ work and blurring the boundaries between work and personal life, questioning the contemporary concept of work-life balance.
Erdem Ersoy and Arda Örem’s concert
Beyond the display of short films, ambient sets, and collage-making activities, the Contact improvisation workshop led by Moscow-based theatre actress Kristina Baeva stood out. She guided a group of 25 individuals toward a deeper understanding of their bodies and how they interact with the mind. The workshop aimed to help participants focus on their personal needs and interactions with others’ physicality. This focus on movement, the other person, and the space carried substantial potential for creative transformation for oneself and others.
Kristina Beava’s contact improvisation workshop
Alican Öztürk organized a performance titled ‘Ring The Ding,’ portraying a tenant of the space. Throughout his performance, he ordered inexpensive meals to the gallery, smoked cigarettes, drank beer, read books, practised acting, and prepared for castings. Visitors could interact with the performer at any time, blurring the boundary between private and public space. This experience raised questions about boundaries and the challenges of defining clear lines. Furthermore, an exceptional therapeutic workshop was facilitated by Yöntem Yurtsever – a Turkish yogini and physiotherapist. She guided the participants through the art of meditative collage-making, encouraging introspection about the past to better understand their present selves and foster a harmonious state of mind.
Alican Öztürk’s ‘Ring The Ding’ performance Yöntem Yurtsever’s meditation session
Transformative Initiatives: Symbiosis
What is intriguing is how both the curator and the exhibition’s participants managed to create such a homely atmosphere that participants themselves began to propose various activities. One such engaged participant was Olya Prodan, who assumed the role of an ad hoc intermediary writer. She invited participants to share their intimate stories of separation from loved ones due to emigration. Patiently listening to their confessions, Olya Prodan wrote letters on behalf of those longing for connection, acting as a sensitive intermediary—a third party providing a much-needed perspective from a distance.
Olya Prodan’s writing performance Lera Dergunova’s knitting session
On a different occasion, a participant took the initiative to lead a spontaneous acting workshop, and Lera Dergunova introduced many individuals to the meditative art of knitting. These selfless, bottom-up initiated, and mostly spontaneous initiatives by the participants exemplify the symbiotic nature of the event.
What if home doesn’t have to be a material space?
At the core of the exhibition is an installation by Furkan Aydin, his work “The Wings” can be interpreted in various ways. One of them is a tribute to nomadism – for many immigrants, home is a nomadic entity, not fixed to one place, but determined by individual needs, feelings, and desires to settle in a space that can change. Certain objects, particularly electronic devices, allow us to carry our sense of home with us, facilitating a nomadic lifestyle.
Furkan Aydin and his installation “The Wings”
The installation sparked deep interest among participants, many of whom interacted repeatedly with the artist’s work, perhaps contemplating what it would be like to pack their essentials in a backpack and change their place of residence. The installation raises thought-provoking questions, such as how much of home can fit into a backpack? How much of home is created by what is mobile, networked, and digitized; and how much of it is a tangible, material experience?
Another intriguing work that caught my attention is Darico Hasaya’s installation, Restoration. The piece features a mirror with its glass stripped away, while the shattered glass lies on the floor beneath the frame, what creates tension in this two-object work. The installation’s bipartite nature is especially noteworthy, as it transforms the functionally homogeneous mirror into a divided object. This fundamental disjunction conveys a sense of identity loss – home, and by extension, family, creates a sense of integration and identity in relation to one’s role within the family.
Darico Hasaya’s installation “Restoration”
However, when familial ties are severed, and para-familial relations are broken, one can no longer see oneself through the eyes of their family, resulting in a void of reference. This leads to a sense of disorder – as Odo Marquard put it, “we are a collage rather than a constancy”. Migration becomes an experience of seeing oneself in different circumstances, through the perspectives of new and different people, ultimately constructing identity as a collage, a kaleidoscope, or a broken mirror pieced together and reformed in a process of identity construction. Identity, then, is more processual and contingent than fixed and unchanging.
In the context of collages, Sergey Malamen, a graphic artist from Ukraine, deserves attention for presenting four collages. Each piece expresses a postmodern mix of registers – from classicist, monochromatic portraits with glued-on eyes (alluding to surveillance portraits), to suprematist figures, to caricatured mixed-media works combining sketch collage and paracomic textual layer.
Sergey Malamen’s collages
The artist places special emphasis on the act of looking – a powerful act that can paternalize, interpolate, reify, but also affirm, sympathize, and show sympathy. Numerous faces gaze at the viewer, inviting them to immerse themselves in the stories human faces tell. These faces express a collage of emotions: certainty, grotesqueness, bitterness, and suspicion. The collection might be seen as an expression of a love story told in a pop-cultural way, but careful observers can find rationale for many other interpretations within the works.
Expressed through paintings
The paragraph on painting starts with artist Sanem Özdemir, a 25-year-old who had her first solo exhibition in Istanbul. Her work primarily revolves around the theme of female subjectivity (or its lack) in Turkish society. One of her paintings, titled ‘Tribute to Munch,’ references the well-known self-portrait by the Norwegian painter. This work consciously refers to the canon of art history, displaying Art Nouveau lines and abandoning realistic backgrounds. The veined, weary hand holding a cigarette and the fearful gaze resemble Munch’s self-portrait from 1882. Within this autotelic art for art’s sake and gendered transposition lies both a constative conclusion and a contestation. The context highlights that there is no Turkish “EV” (house) without a woman – a factual yet iconoclastic statement, calling for change from anyone who is outraged by this fact.
Kristina Baeva’s diptych shares some similarities with Sanem Özdemir’s painting. While the former can be seen as an assertive and confirmation piece, the latter serves as a meditation on political inertia and thoughtlessness. The gaze of the woman portrayed in Kristina Baeva’s painting (the artist’s grandmother) appears unruffled, blissful, and reconciled with all dimensions of existence, past, present, and future. Originally focused on depicting her country’s political situation (as seen in the second part of the diptych), the artist added a second image, superimposing a sheet over it, featuring an iconic figure of an old lady observing streets from behind the window’s curtain. This addition completely transformed the meaning of the work.
Artemis Haldeev, like Sanem Özdemir, is bound by an expressionist melancholy. However, the painting does not show a face, which is typically used for expression. Instead, it features a quote-title: “kafamda bir tuhaflık,” which comes from a book by Orhan Pamuk and originates from a poem by William Wordsworth (‘Prelude’). This phrase resonated with the Turkish Nobel laureate as a child, capturing his sense of anachronism and inadequacy, accompanied by a feeling of shame, which might be the main motif of this painting.
Aslan Tsallatti ‘My Imprints’ Artemis Haldeev ‘Kafamda bir tuhaflık’
An interesting technique was employed by Aslan Tsallatti, an artist living in Italy. Through a series of prints titled ‘My Imprints,’ this 25-year-old artist used corporeality, much like Yves Klein once did. The prints incorporate everyday objects such as airline tickets or a coffee machine, creating tension and drawing attention to our relationship with the material surroundings. Over time, we become attached to these objects, familiarizing ourselves with them to the extent that they become part of our peculiar tactics of everyday life, taking on new roles and meanings beyond their initial purpose.
Dilan Özdemir also integrates non-human beings into the home space. Her triptych is divided color-wise and thematically into two parts. The first part, featuring an antique bust and a photograph of a studio, represents the anthropocentric nature of the home as a creative place. This intentional-pretentious trait contrasts with the photographs of domesticated non-human creatures, reflecting the family model based on inhuman interspecies kinship, which has become increasingly prevalent in modern times.
The painting part of the exhibition concludes with a series of watercolour paintings by Olya Getman. This meditative series seems to allude to leaving the family home in search of a new place. A possible narrative between her three paintings in the exhibition could represent the feelings of suppression, freedom, and the bondage of responsibility. These emotions might correspond to the stages of development: adolescence, leaving the nest, and adulthood, where the biggest advantage and disadvantage lie in being responsible for oneself, what provides freedom but also provokes intrusive thoughts about previous decisions and current paths. It shows the fact that immigration was always bonded to constant demand of decision-making process.
Olya Getman ‘Linkage’
Darico Hasaya has curated a well-matched selection of photographies that unites the cinematographical style. While the majority of the exhibition consists of para-expressionist paintings, collages, and watercolor works, the photographs presented share a cinematographic poetics of expression. Ayşe Ecer’s works, for example, evoke film frames from Krzysztof Kieslowski’s documentary ‘Talking Heads.’ The photographs capture the Roma children playing in Istanbul’s Balat district, living in a perpetual diaspora, highlighting that home is not confined to four walls but rather is rooted in a sense of community that transcends physical space. The dynamic nature of nomadic life is expressed through the carefully composed photographic series, featuring symmetrically opposed compositional triangles that convey movement into this series.
Ayşe Ecer’s photographs
Nurbahar Kiran’s photography explores another thought-provoking aspect of the exhibition’s theme. Her photograph depicts Ankara Sincan Prison, with the names of prisoners carved on the wall and a visitor waiting to be seen. The image gives the impression of appearing in one of the many reflections of an infinite mirror, symbolizing the vastness of time from the perspective of the prisoner and their family, during which they must endure waiting to return home.
Nurbahar Kiran’s photographs
Furkan Düzgün’s photographs reflect Istanbul’s melancholy and the deformation of the concept of home. The series may narrate a story of belonging to space, that constitutes home only by the appearance. Pictures could explore the distortion of 20th-century clichés about the life of an artist or literary figure, depicted through images of an empty kitchen, Scotch on the table, and a mattress on the floor – a rundown house where something feels amiss, and it’s being compensated by imagination driven by drug.
Furkan Düzgün’s photograph Bora Dağal’s photograph
Bora Dağal’s cinematic cinematography is marked by emptiness, anticipation, and melancholy, portraying home as a mere room, a place of unfulfilled potential where the yearning for a true home resides – a longing for something that is yet to be found. His artwork captures the essence of inner emigration – to feel a longing for a still unknown place, to look out for change, to be perpetually absent, in a state of limbo. These feelings are precisely mirrored in the expressions of the figures depicted in his photographs. At the age of 18, this young artist departed from Turkey to reside in Poland for a period of three years. The chance to engage with two distinct cultures afforded him a deeper understanding of the nostalgic nature of his homeland.
The exhibition was further enriched by a well-chosen sound layer, masterfully crafted by musicians Pavel Khoreshko and Sergey Phillippov. Pavel Khoreshko prepared an ambient compilation, while Sergey Phillippov composed a 13-minute piece titled ‘Home Idea,’ which takes the listener on an emotional journey of anxiety, trepidation, serenity, bliss and confusion, brilliantly expressed through carefully selected string parts. The dynamic nature of the piece brings to mind the epic adventures and cathartic endings reminiscent of the homeric Odyssey.
Artivism starts at home
The exhibition ‘EV’ at Istanbul REM Space can be summarised in three words – integration, exchange and artivism. One could also be tempted to use many more words, such as friendship, help, support, openness, acceptance, equality, and care. Works by artists such as Sanem Özdemir, Kristina Baeva, Artemis Haldeev and others explored themes of identity, nomadic lifestyles, family and its disintegration. Photographs by Nurbahar Kiran or Bora Dağal portrayed homesickness and inner emigration that can only be imagined, while works by Olyia Getman meditated on leaving the family nest. The exhibition was an expression of art as a tool for understanding identity, belonging, and community. After all, we have to come back to… well, exactly – where? After all, no one promised us that we would always feel like at home in this world, but these short moments prove that sometimes we really can.