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VOLGA KUŞÇUOĞLU’S INTERVIEW WITH GIANLUCA COSTANTINI
Gianluca Costantini from Italy defines himself as an “activist-artist.” While he draws near-daily on the developments regarding human rights in many places in the world, Turkey has its own place in Costantini’s works. Calling İstanbul his “second home,” the artist has drawn on almost every important event in the country since the 2013 Gezi Park protests.
Berkin Elvan, Tahir Elçi, Osman Kavala, Musa Kart, Selahattin Demirtaş… He has drawn many people who were killed or persecuted.
We had a Q&A with Costantini on email.
In your Twitter bio, you say, “We must revolutionize our visual thinking,” and you visualize many incidents and stories in different parts of the world. Could you tell us about your work and purpose?
I was really impressed by “We must revolutionize our visual thinking,” when I discovered it in an exhibition of Alexander Rodchenko in Palermo. I felt it as a personal thought. This sentence summarizes what I would like to provoke and realize with my drawings. Reality transposed in drawings can change our way of thought. When you draw something, even a flowerpot, you do a political action. Because if everything is art, everything is political. If you draw a flowerpot, it’s not only beauty in it, you testify that you are in this world and what you think about this world. If you draw flowerpots all your life, your thought is probably that everything is ok, politics and war are ok. But you can help in changing someone else’s position through your actions as an artist.
What I’m interested in is the world we live in, and that’s why a large part of my drawings are dedicated to dramatic situations. My focus by the way is the human being as an individual. I try to help as far as I can people in danger, creating an artistic support, material that could be used to awake consciousness, to spread news, to testify what is happening. I try to realize a drawing every day at least and I publish it on my Twitter account https://twitter.com/channeldraw.
Your works can easily anger many governments and you have been censored by the government of Turkey. Have you ever faced any difficulties beyond internet censorship?
I have been often threatened for my drawings, but nothing to be worried. I have been officially censored by the Turkish government after the failed coup (there is a court ruling). I have often been accused of antisemitism because of my pro-Palestinian drawings and my criticism of the policies of the Israeli Government. But I have never been detained because of my art. Luckily, I speak of themes related to countries I don’t live in.
Your works cover the most important happenings in Turkey since the 2013 Gezi Park protests. Could you tell us how did you become interested in Turkey and how do you see things that happened since then?
I love Istanbul and I consider it as my second homeland, after different travels I did and after a graphic novel called The tamer of Istanbul that focused on the city through the story of the artist and archeologist Osman Hamdi. I was first fun and then become friends with some Turkish drawers from Leman such as Mehmet Çağçağ and Tuncay Akgün. If you love a place, you also love people there fighting for freedom and democracy.
I was contacted by some activists during Gezi Park protests and I did a lot of images used in social networks and during demonstrations. It was a very creative protest. I also followed Cizre facts and the situation of the human rights after the coup. Since 2016 I have drawn many Turkish activists and journalists. This engagement make my travel in Turkey not recommended.
In your works on LeMan magazine, you touch on Western prejudices against people of Turkey and the Middle East. Given the rise of the right-wing populism in Europe and in Italy, how do you evaluate the situation now?
In the so-called Western world there are many prejudice on Turkish people, Italians don’t know even if they have to consider them in Middle East or in Europe, they think that Turkey is an Islamic country, they just don’t know it’s a secular one. These are prejudice fuelled by ignorance. When I was interviewed in 2016, after the Turkish Government censored me, I used to say that the same repression of freedom of speech could happen also in Italy, quickly and deeply. Sadly, it was true. The same populistic and right wing politics is spreading through Europe, under different masks.
The “Alt-right” movement is creeping in Italian society under the direction of Lega Nord that is now part of the Government and has a very aggressive position. Nobody seems to care about their robberies! Their plan is to create a USA — Russia — Europe platform and their headmaster is Steve Bannon. Bannon is promoting a nationalistic — populist international movement. A lot of things will change after next European election, and not in a good way.
Do you see similarities between the governments of Italy and Turkey?
I can see the same idea of power: authoritarian, paternalistic, with an aim of subversion of the constitutional rules. But there are also differences. Italian government has no intention, for the moment, to extend its geopolitical influence in these last years. Let’s say that has no foreign policy. It is closed in its frontiers that are now the main issue. The closing is also cultural and economical. Youngsters are leaving the country, in particular the high educated ones. There is no political alternative and we feel like going back to the 20s when the fascism rose in my country and perhaps never disappeared completely then.
Click for a photo gallery of Costantini’s work on Turkey.
Originally published at http://bianet.org.