Art and Politics

Reactions to reactions: censorship in the Turkish art scene

In her talk at the Kunstmuseum Gegenwart, Banu Karaca gave the audience a tour through censorship in Turkey, pointing out amongst other things, ways of reacting to censorship of one’s art under a government that seems to be cracking down on freedom of artistic expression.

It is this “reaction to the reaction” – that is, artists reacting to the state reacting (unfavourably) to their artwork – that merits a closer look: what options do artists have under oppressive state rules to continue showing, and even producing, art? What effect does censorship have on artists, and on the future of art? Is this something specific to Turkey, or can this type of censorship happen elsewhere?

The state of art

Banu Karaca laid her focus on bringing the Basel audience closer to the reality of art censorship in Turkey, a topic that she also focuses on in her writings and research. She began laying out a timeline of notable examples in the politics of censorship in Turkey, with the contested Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code at its center. Article 301, which in its first version came into effect in 2005, states that anyone denigrating “Turkishness” or the turkish military will be punished with between three to six years of imprisonment. Since its inception, it has been criticized widely, especially as in the beginning it was used as a free for all by the government to curtail art. Though the article has since been amended- notably after the assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink- it is still widely used by the state to delegitimize those that are critical of it. As Karaca stated, the 2000’s in Turkey were “marked by contingencies of delegitimization”. It is precisely these events of delegitimization and censorship, as well as notable reactions to this, that I wish to focus on in this post.

The earliest example mentioned by Karaca, and one she has extensively published on already, comes from the Istanbul Art Biennial of 2005. Here, in a small “Hospitality Zone” devoted to two smaller shows within the biennial, Halil Altındere curated an exhibition entitled Free Kick. Included in this exhibition are photographs by the Kurdish photographer Cengiz Tekin, with one photograph showing a Turkish man aiming a free kick at a lineup of Kurdish civilians. Another work shows a Turkish military official looming in the frame, titled “Hulk”. These photographs led to an anonymous complaint filed with the ministry, resulting in the prosecution of Altındere and the removal of the exhibition catalogue. Though both charges were ultimately dropped, the prosecution nevertheless led to the court overstepping and so established a precedence to further state encroachments upon artists. Photography is not the only art form that has been (partially or fully) censored in recent times: mixed media artworks such as Tenger’s 1992 I Know People Like This II, and (documentary) films such as Bakur (2015) or Zer (2017) have also been targeted and silenced.

“I love you 301”: art as (re)action

Though censorship in any form is “effective” in terms of silencing someone- whether this be through an outright active movement such as pulling an exhibition catalogue from an exhibition or through the artist self-censoring works, there are also artists that engage in a different way with the possibility of censorship. Though in Turkey there is a real and palpable danger of censorship by the state that can range from bans to imprisonment, nevertheless, there are artists that use the machinery of the state in their art, and thus make a statement. If Article 301–a textual legislative that is accessible to the public–is the backbone of the censorship apparatus used by the government, are there ways for artists to expose this backbone and the silencing that goes with it? Indeed, some artists have found ways to make the gaps left by censorship visible and make these gaps speak for themselves. “I love you 301” was an art installation by Ferhat Özgür that was set up like a karaoke gig; instead of singing along to contemporary pop songs, visitors were able to “sing” the lines of the Article itself. In my favourite example of defiance, after a short-notice ban of his film at a festival, the director of Bêrîvan took to the stage and stood in front of the black screen, recounting the film scene by scene to the audience. Another example of a film director refusing to be cowed by the censorship was Kazim Öz, who was told to cut certain scenes from his film Zer and complied, adding a subtitle to the blacked out scene stating that the content of the scene had been deemed unfit to be shown to audiences by the ministry.

Indeed, artists have a hard choice to make when faced with censorship: do they comply and let their artistic output be stifled, or do they refuse to be silenced and have to deal with the consequences of no funding or worse? The counter-reaction to Article 301 in these examples seems to go two ways: in the case of Özgür it is taking the literal text used to legitimize censorship and putting it on display as if itself was a piece of art that the audience can interact with, and in the case of filmmakers such as Öz it is speaking up about the ways that the Article has impacted the original piece of art.

301: confined to Turkey?

Though there has been much focus laid on the state of critical contemporary art and whether it is possible to still be produced in Turkey, this form of censorship imposed by the state is by no means limited to Turkey. This type of crackdown on critical art is a political tool, and is utilized by governments and officials in many countries across the globe. If it seems as though the furore around Article 301 has quieted down and art censorship is a thing of the past – as media outlets focus on different sorts of censorship, this is far from the case: a current example is the “loyalty in culture” bill in Israel, where the culture minister has continually been proposing to enforce this bill. Though it was not accepted the first time it was proposed, it will again be brought before the legislative committee. If approved, artists that denigrate Israel or attempt to show a Palestinian national narrative will have their funding cut by the government; it remains to be seen how contemporary artists will deal with this, and in what ways they react. Art is exciting precisely because it is a tool that can be used to portray the world around us in all its multi-faceted aspects both good and bad, and as Karaca showed in her talk, fighting for the art you make is crucial.

Text by Julia Brosi.

Art and Politics

The second lecture: Jack Halberstam

I live on earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing – a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process – an integral funtion of the universe.

Jack Halberstam opened his lecture, Unbuilding Gender: Trans*Anarchitectures In and Beyond the Work of Gordon Matta-Clark with the beautiful quote above by Richard Buckminster Fuller and finished with what can only be described as a powerful call to unbuild the world. The lecture is based on an article Halberstam wrote for Places Journal which can be accessed here. For a recording of the lecture, please click here.


We are very much looking forward to our next lecture: Performing in public space at the time of identity claims and political resistances by video, performance, and photography artist Michèle Magema. The lecture will take place on tuesday, 13.11.2018, at 6pm.

For more information, please see also the program of the lecture series.


Fotos: Impressions from the lecture. © Private.
Art and Politics

Veranstaltungshinweis: Lust am Widerspruch

Die Kaserne Basel startet heute Abend um 20 Uhr die Veranstaltungsreihe Lust am Widerspruch mit der kraftvollen, dokumentarischen Theaterproduktion Ef_feminity.

Lust am Widerspruch ist allerdings mehr als eine Veranstaltunsreihe. Sie bezeichnet den Beginn einer längerfristigen Kooperation mit dem Zentrum Gender Studies und dem Swiss Center for Social Research. Dies soll neue Erfahrungs- und Wissensräume im Dialog zwischen Theorie und Theater- bzw. Performancepraxis ermöglichen. Um mehr zu erfahren, klicken Sie hier.


Foto: Du bist eine Rebellin. © Privat.
Art and Politics

The first Lecture: Banu Karaca

We successfully started The Art of Intervention-Lecture series with Banu Karacas insightful lecture Rethinking Debates on Freedom of the Arts and its Limits. Here are some impressions from the evening.


We are very much looking forward to our next lecture, this time by Jack Halberstam, called Unbuilding Gender: Trans* Anarchitectures In and Beyond the Work of Gordon Matta-Clark, on tuesday, 16.10.2018, at 6pm.

Halberstam will discuss the anarchitectural practices of American artist Gordon Matta-Clark (1943–1978) and link the ideas of unbuilding and creative destruction that characterize his work to develop a queer concept of anarchitecture focused upon the trans* body.

For more information, please see also the program of the lecture series.


Fotos: Impressions from the lecture. © Private.
Exhibition reviews

Medienspiegel zur Ausstellung (1)

Die Ausstellung War Games von Martha Rosler und Hito Steyerl hat ein grosses und positives Medien-Echo erhalten. Machen Sie sich selbst einen Eindruck:

1.5.2018     Artinside: Hito Steyerl & Martha Rosler: War Games
4.5.2018     BZ Basel: Vorne Selfie, hinten Bürgerkrieg
4.5.2018     Basler Zeitung: Vom Versuch, das Ganze wieder in den Blick zu bekommen
5.5.2018     Deutschlandfunk Kultur: Krieg und Medien
6.5.2018     Badische Zeitung: Kritik der Kontaminierung

Im Alltag vergessen wird, dass das Internet ursprünglich für militärische Zwecke entwickelt wurde, oder dass der urbane Parcourssport auf einer militärischen Trainingstechnik beruht, die von französischen Soldaten für Kampf- und Flucht-situationen erarbeitet wurde. – Yvonne Ziegler, Badische Zeitung

11.5.2018    Badische Zeitung: Vietnamkrieg im Wohnzimmer
22.5.2018    SonntagsZeitung: Wie sich die Bilder gleichen
24.5.2018    Le Courrier: L’art, cette arme de réflexion massive

Und plötzlich fragt man sich: Warum wird mit Drohnen kaum je nach oben, in den offenen Himmel hineingefilmt, sondern immer nur das beschränkte Gewusel am Boden ins Visier genommen? – Daniela Janser, WOZ

24.5.2018    WOZ – Die Wochenzeitung: Der Krieg, der im Blumenbouquet steckt
28.5.2018    Kulturtipp: Schmerzhafte Einstiche
29.5.2018    Monopol: Kriegsspiele
30.5.2018    taz: Schule der Autonomie

1.6.2018     Programmzeitung: Starke Werke von starken Frauen
9.6.2018     SonntagsBlick: Immer im Bild

Rosler’s work has made visible what Marshall McLuhan noted in his 1970 essay Culture Is Our Business: “World War III is a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation.” – Riccardo Conti, Mousse Magazine

11.6.2018    Mousse Magazine: Martha Rosler & Hito Steyerl: War Games
11.6.2018    Der Bund / Tages-Anzeiger: Was Frauen mit der Kunst machen
20.6.2018    Spike Art: Martha Rosler: Off the Shelf
21.6.2018    Art Viewer: Martha Rosler & Hito Steyerl at Kunstmuseum Basel

In gewisser Weise ist die Finanzierung sozialer Kunstpraktiken durch reiche Stiftungen ein Zugeständnis an die Daseinsberechtigung von Randgemeinschaften. Man gibt ihnen eine Organisationsplattform, schwächt aber gleichzeitig die Militanz ihrer Forderung nach sozialer Veränderung. – Martha Rosler im Interview mit Marc Neumann, NZZ

26.6.2018    Neue Zürcher Zeitung: «Kunst muss nicht um soziale Fragen kreisen»

1.7.2018      Art Monthly: Martha Rosler and Hito Steyerl: War Games
12.7.2018    Eikon: Martha Rosler & Hito Steyerl: War Games

Selten hat eine Ausstellung zwei künstlerische Positionen derart überzeugend miteinander verwoben. Auch wenn der Generationensprung, zum Glück, gerade nicht der Motor der Doppelschau ist, lässt sich dennoch ein Zeitindex in den Arbeiten ablesen. – Beate Söntgen, FAZ

25.7.2018     Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: Die Banalität des Drohnentheaters


Bild: Sinnspruch von H. P. Adamski in den Hackeschen Höfen, Berlin. © Privat, 2015.
About Us

Creative politics and political creativity

On the occasion of the exhibition War Games by Martha Rosler & Hito Steyerl at the Kunstmuseum Basel, this series of events will explore interventions in the arts and humanities that are intensely critical and fun, politically creative and creatively political, espousing queer-feminist, postcolonial and intersectional perspectives. As Steyerl proposed,

If politics is thought of as the Other, happening somewhere else, always belonging to disenfranchised communities in whose name no one can speak, we end up missing what makes art intrinsically political nowadays: its function as a place for labor, conflict, and…fun—a site of condensation of the contradictions of capital and of extremely entertaining and sometimes devastating misunderstandings between the global and the local.

In short, we focus on what art is best at: to inspire us to think, see and feel otherwise.

This involves rethinking the notions of intervention and critique as well as analyzing prevailing discourses on identity, migration, integration and globalization. We theorize interventions, endorsed or unendorsed, authorized or illicit, as performative acts of critique, politics, and activism with a potential to subvert the status quo. Interventions in the arts and humanities enable new encounters and can lead to (unlikely) coalitions in the struggle for justice. Yet interventions can also incite censorship and other coercive measures. Our event series aims to explore the myriad forms of the art of intervention while setting out to shed light on the potentiality of art as intervention.


Written by Bilgin Ayata, Dominique Grisard, Andrea Zimmermann