BREAKING THROUGH CULTURAL AND POLITICAL BOUNDARIES
KARIN MEISEL IN CONVERSATION WITH ARTIST ESIN TURAN
How would you describe your sociopolitical role as a Turkish artist in Austria?
In my work as an artist I attempt to offer alternative ways of thinking and seeing – without being overbearing. I present sociopolitical issues using visual means and try to break through cultural and religious boundaries by transcending linguistic barriers. My work revolves around universal themes like the feminine in social reflection, sexuality and current events in their inner references to history, and the effects of time and space. I try to keep my independence and critical insight, even when they go against the expectations of society. For artists of Turkish origin in Austria, there is a real danger of sliding into clichés in order to gain notoriety as a “socially insurgent emigrant artist.” It’s pretty common to be labeled as “exotic.” These kinds of pigeonholes exist in art and culture as well.
The veil or the headscarf is a recurring theme in your work. To what extent has the veil inspired your artistic production?
Religious symbols, and especially Islamic images or symbols in the mass media, convey many layers of meaning. Most of them are subliminal. They are not only associated with Islam as a religion, but also with Islam as a militant movement, often accompanied by the refusal to adopt the value system of the respective host country. The headscarf and veil are generally viewed as symbols of the repression of women in Islam, while gender equality is considered one of the cornerstones of liberal democracies of the West.
Like migration, cultural identity, freedom, and many other political and social issues of global importance, the headscarf is unavoidable as a topic.
Why did you choose the theme of homosexuality for Livita?
In Islamic communities, homosexuality is not only a religious problem, but also a social and above all a male problem. Like encounters with women, homosexuality can bring up male fears and possibly even desire, and this stands in the way of enlightened discourse on the issue.
If the male role is attacked in certain points, most respond with denial. To be homosexual means not to correspond with the male image. In my image the male is veiled like a woman.
How would you describe reactions to your art? Are they significantly different in Austria than in Turkey?
Basically, there are no major differences at all. Of course the interest of the press is high when the political aspect of Islam comes into play.
But from experience, I would not like to rule out the possibility that the reaction to my work is more controversial in the West than in Turkey.