Istanbul Officials Stop Nightly Screening of Artist’s Video
By HG Masters
In the latest act of cultural censorship in Istanbul, on April 26, officials from the local Beyoğlu municipality forced the owners of a hotel to shut down a rooftop screen playing a video by the artist Işıl Eğrikavuk. These city officials first cited anonymous complaints that the work “insulted religious views” and then cited the work for causing “visual pollution.” Eğrikavuk’s animated video Time to Sing a New Song features the phrase “Eve, finish your apple!” and depicts the forbidden fruit transforming into a female-looking emoji. It was commissioned by YAMA, a nonprofit run by hotel owner Kağan Gürsel and currently overseen by curator Övül Durmuşoğlu, that uses an old six-by-nine-meter billboard that sits atop the Marmara Pera hotel for artists projects. Time to Sing a New Song was scheduled to be screened every night from sundown to morning from April 23 until June 30. The news surfaced today, May 4, when Eğrikavuk wrote about the incident on her Facebook page.
In her post, Eğrikavuk expresses how perplexed she is by the decision, asking why, “In a city where the neon lights are dominating [sic] the whole public space, is it only one art work that was found problematic?” She also questions whether “any artworks containing words by and about women considered to be pollution?” According to Eğrikavuk’s lawyer, who called the Marmara Pera for an explanation on May 2, the Beyoğlu municipality had first tried to stop the YAMA screenings in February when a video by Pilvi Takala, entitled Worker’s Forum (2015), about an online chat forum used by workers of the “Invisibile Boyfriend/Girlfriend” platform, was showing. The previous project, by Banu Cennetoğlu, was The List (2015), which named all 22,342 known migrants, asylum seekers and refugees that had died trying to enter the European Union between 1993 and mid-2015. The reason that officials first claimed that Eğrikavuk’s work was “insulting religious views” remains unclear.
The news comes during an increasingly censorious and fraught period in Turkey. In the last six months, Akbank Sanat cancelled its prize-winning juried exhibition called “Post-Peace.” Nearby the Marmara Pera, Salt Beyoğlu has been shut down since January on a host of vague building-code violations. And the bombing on Istiklal Caddesi, on March 19, forced Arter to postpone the opening of three exhibitions. At the national level, the ruling Islamist party is rewriting the constitution and the speaker of the parliament, Ismail Kahraman, ignited a debate last week when he said “We are a Muslim country . . . Secularism cannot feature in the new constitution.” The remark, although it was disavowed by the prime minister the following day, seemed to many to be aimed at preparing the country for more religiously oriented laws. Regardless of whether Eğrikavuk's work was specifically targetted for its content or whether turning the lights out on YAMA is wrapped up in the government's larger efforts to shut down independent voices in the public sphere, both are increasingly common occurrences in Turkey so far in 2016.
HG Masters is editor-at-large for ArtAsiaPacific.