What about the young LGBTQIA+ artists in today’s society and art sphere of Turkey? What are the challenges that LGBTQIA+ artists encounter? How does the government oppression against the LGBTQIA+ movement and visibility affect the artists? How does queer art create its own space of visibility? In 2020, the Through the Window project team put these questions on the table in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and took off. Needless to say, the pandemic-related measures doubled the struggles of LGBTIQIA+’s, especially music and stage arts workers.
Kübra Uzun, one of the founders of the project, defines Through the Window as “an online platform that centers itself around thinking, creating and having fun together with Turkey- and Holland-based queer artists, thinkers and night workers, while aiming at expanding the network of communication, interaction, and solidarity as well as making all of the constituents of this network visible”. Following the idea of “creating space”, Through the Window team continues expanding its domain in the second year of the project.
For LGBTQIA+ artists, the last few years were about the resistance against mass oppression and the struggle for creating alternative spaces. Today, there are arguably more alternative spaces and places for LGBTQIA+ artists than ever. The solidarity doors against the political and social climate are open wider than ever before. LGBTQIA+ artists manage to open their own spaces, work, and create.
Now let’s travel back in time.
Apart from a handful of examples from the hidden documents of art history, there is no actual oeuvre to title as queer art history in Turkey.
While there are open discussions and debates about social issues that concern the non-Muslim minorities, the Kurdish problem, the labor movements as the Republic approaches its centennial, the debates about LGBTQIA+ visibility were not present up until the recent time. In “The Underway of Turkey in the Gay Liberation Movement” article published in the 2011 issue of Cogito Journal titled Sexual Orientation and Queer Theory, Ali Erol describes the “homosexual reality” from the progressive perspective of the Republican period as “the last denial left”. “The homosexual reality is perhaps the last denial left. Homosexuality is the only issue that the Republican devotees and those who criticize Republican Turkey through every tone and channel unhesitantly agree upon”, argues Erol in his article. He emphasizes the fact that – even though their names and degrees of confrontation may vary – while there are no topics left to debate upon, the turn to discuss homosexuality upon the ninetieth anniversary of the Republic is yet to come.
The first steps towards what we call today the LGBTQIA+ movement began with gay and trans communities’ first attempts of uniting in 1993 that resulted in the legislation of their legal entity in 2005 and continued throughout the 2000s with the organization works of Lambdaistanbul in Istanbul and Kaos GL in Ankara.
Therefore, it would be proper to follow the steps of this social mobility in order to give an account of queer art in Turkey and the history of LGBTQIA+ artists. This mobility in the 2000s and 2010s is traceable in the use of center-spread of Kaos GL magazine as an artists’ page, the “Makul” exhibition opened as a Pride Week special in 2008 with the initiative of Hafriyat and, consequently, the formation of the exhibition tradition during the Pride Week, the increasing visibility of LGBTQIA+ artists in the contemporary art sphere, the emergences of experimentalism-friendly galleries, as well as “Future Queer” and “Colony” exhibitions organized by KAOS GL Association.
Meanwhile, in the last few years, the shoe has come to be on the other foot due to the changes in government politics. With the interruption of Turkey’s EU membership process, the rise of nationalist and Islamic politics subdued the feminist and LGBTQIA+ movement to take a major blow.
Even though the political climate of the country turned the tide, the genie was already out of the bottle. It becomes increasingly difficult to put the social visibility of LGBTQIA+ out of public reach. Given the mutual manifestation and relation between art and social movements, it is even more unimaginable to argue that the artists would back down.
It is equally important for queer art to unite with the heritage of the LGBTQIA+ movement, and for the latter to unite with the spaces originated by art and the artists themselves. Ömer Tevfik Eren, one of the founders of Through The Window, underlines this collaborative urge: “I do not think that TTW is a conventional art project, because the conditions under which it was born were formed from the needs we have been discussing for many years”. Stating that the culture of solidarity and acting together in the art spectrum is a bestowal from the LGBTQIA+ movement, Erten adds: “I am involved in Through the Window project because I am aware that it is necessary to open spaces and act in solidarity so that my art would reach its audience. I regard this disposition as cultural development. The liberation of artists will also liberate me. This is exactly why we need Through the Window project. There is no way out all alone”.
Kübra Uzun also points out that queer individuals are the subjects of activism due to their very existence. They believe that with this second phase, Through the Window acts upon its mission of “creating spaces” even more concentratedly and becomes a platform that takes its power from the solidarity network. Uzun endorses that ”it would be of no exaggeration to say/foresee at this very point that this development will go on by bringing more and more diversity together and improving itself accordingly”.
Through the Window is a project that exhibits the outputs on such digital platforms as Instagram, Facebook, and Zoom. In the meantime, this is a pandemic-related requirement. However, according to Uzun, this is also an important means of accessibility. Uzun summarizes: “[Through the Window] creates a communication network with the social media presence, a narrative aspect, and the sub-outputs based on the main outputs (Queer Talks, Queer Q&A’s, Post Cards)”. Each new post or hashtag actually both expands the space of Through the Window and invites new actors to the stage”. They emphasize that although the plans to do physical exhibitions are on the way, the main medium of Through the Window will remain online.
Through the Window began last year with the sponsorship of the Netherlands consulate-general in Istanbul and continues its work with the new contributors. Apart from having financial support, the project creates a special opportunity of bringing Turkey- and Holland-based queer artists together. I myself had the chance of participating in “Queer Activism”, an online conversationthat took place in the first phase of Through the Window last year. It was of personal importance to me to discuss the similar consequences of countries with different conjunctures of radical right politics, anti-refugee discourses, and trans-exclusive tendencies; to discuss the similarities and the differences of the ways of resisting these consequences and to share the alternatives. The aftermaths produced by the historical dynamics and socio-political achievements in different countries provide us with mutually satisfactory important data.
Simon(e) van Saarloos, another founder of the project, also emphasized in our talk that this common ground will play a substantial role in bringing activism and art together. Rightfully so, in a two-year-long period, TTW has become a platform that makes the creations of dozens of artists and activists brought together for this project visible. The original contents of visual, musical, and/or performance artists, DJs as well as activists from different backgrounds and creative disciplines are available in the social media accounts of the platform.
For this year’s second phase of the project, Through the Window will not only exhibit brand new works of 22 Turkey- and Holland-based queer artists, but also extend the space of its platform with solidarity parties and online conversations.
As always, today’s LGBTQIA+ movement and artists need solidarity, collaborative work, and creating new spaces for themselves. While this solidarity progressively increases, it will certainly do good for us to create more, speak out, and stay together.
Translated by Willie Ray.