Making resistance to censorship visible in Journalism and Art
«Our century has a fractured spine. The fracture, which Agamben mentions, makes us contemporaries to all the wars and massacres that have taken place in history. And it is within the darkness of this fracture that the future shines to be rescued.» Bielik-Robson: A Broken Constellation. Agamben Theology between Tragedy and Messianism, 2010.
The exhibition project Fractured Spine is concerned with how artists express specific forms of resistance in the field of art. Through this gesture a sensory space of experience is created to confront themes that have hardly been approached so far. In exhibiting works that actively engage with human rights violations through artistic means and strategies a valuable contribution to discussions in Switzerland, as well as in Turkey, is enacted.
Especially in times of conflict such as the present, debates surrounding human rights have gained increasing traction here in Switzerland. The central debate remains concerned with the question of migration. The support of illegal pushbacks in the Aegean Sea through direct funding of the European Border- and Coast Guard Frontex, as well as non-compliance with Covid regulations within asylum shelters, is shaking the image of Switzerland as a human rights country.
The experiences and demands of migrants play a central role in public debates on the topic, although they are persistently marginalised in academia, the media and politics. Expanding the possibilities in which people who have a migration background and experiences of oppression can voice their own experiences within the Swiss cultural and artistic context is a central concern of Fractured Spine.
As a basic element of every culture, art plays an extremely important role in enabling bridges to be made between people of different origins. Through exposure to artistic contributions from different cultures, knowledge and understanding for those cultures – especially for the thinking and feeling of people from other cultures – can grow. In this sense, artistic communication is a crucial indicator in the social integration process. Indeed, the question of what integration means is another central issue in our society.
In Switzerland, a progressive understanding of the concept of integration can be traced back to a shift in discourse in the 1970s and 1980s. Solidarity movements broke with the xenophobic sentiments of the New Right as well as the widespread one-sided view of the concept of integration. Integration increasingly came to be understood as a more complex interaction, as interplay between the “migration society” and the “arrival society”. Fractured Spine is thus also positioned as a counter-narrative to the regressive tendencies of the strengthening right-wing populist movement, which, it seems, want to catapult us back to a time before the 1970s. In this sense, an active exchange of experiences is also important in Switzerland in order to work towards an egalitarian society.
Who am I? Where do I come from? What can I do? I am constantly confronted with this question. Ever-increasing numbers of journalists and artists are being censored, imprisoned or persecuted in Turkey. Whilst I was imprisoned in solitary confinement in Turkey as a result of my engagement with human rights movements, I lacked one thing above all: contact with the outside world. Isolation means loneliness. What you need most is a sign that you are not forgotten. Everything that comes from outside is a window, a fresh breath of freedom.
I want to decipher the past in order to change the future.
For this reason, I have to remember and tell. My way as a decolonial activist-artist is to confront my surroundings with an exhibition that enables artistic communication between different cultural groups in Switzerland whilst also contributing to the cultural life in the city of Zurich.
belit sağ, Ercan Richter, Ferhan Mordeniz, Forensic Architecture, Gaël Le Ny, Gianluca Costantini, hêlîn, Hüsamettin Bahçe, Manuela Hitz, !Mediengruppe Bitnik,- Melih Sarıgöl, Oktay Ince, Sally Schonfeldt, Yousif Salih, Zehra Doğan, Black on Black, Black Pitch, Birds Of Babylon
Venue: Photobastei Zurich
“Fractured Spine”, a group exhibition with a supporting programme, is to be shown at Photobastei in Zurich from 28 Oct. to 17 Nov. 2021.
Photobastei aims to make photographic work and its huge artistic potential visible in both off-spaces on the one hand, and established institutions such as galleries and museums, on the other.
Project Realisation / Artistic Positions
In the exhibition, artistic positions from Turkey are juxtaposed with positions by Turkish, Kurdish, Swiss and international artists living in Switzerland, who deal with the above-mentioned realities in their work.
Some important illustrative examples follow:
The artist and journalist Zehra Doğan, co-founder of JINHA, the world’s first news agency run exclusively by women and now banned, which makes visible the political conditions and everyday life of women belonging to ethnic minorities in Turkey. She was imprisoned for her system-critical contributions.
Swiss filmmaker Edi Hubschmid presents his book YOL – Der Weg ins Exil. It is a documentation of the unique genesis of the film of the same name by Kurdish director Yilmaz Güney. Güney coordinated the shooting from prison. After the film negatives were smuggled across the border, he finished the film in Switzerland in collaboration with Edi Hubschmid. The film was awarded the Palme d’Or at the 1982 Cannes International Film Festival. In addition, the production was Switzerland’s official representative for the 1983 Academy Awards.
This contribution exemplifies the potential of artistic productions that arise from within the multifaceted networks of migrants, and which also demonstrate the reciprocal relationships between exile and country of origin that turn act as a form of resistance.
The interconnectivity of globalised Switzerland in regards to human rights conflicts is addressed in a different and more subliminal way within Fractured Spine with the work “Is a Museum a Battlefield” by the internationally renowned artist Hito Steyerl. She traces the murder of her friend Andrea Wolf, who was murdered as a supporter of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) in 1998. The trail leads her to the arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin, among others. This also therefore leads to the centres of Swiss finance and to the question of the extent to which role it plays in the global arms trade.
The works of belit sağ dissect the complex interrelationships of image production and ideology, visual habits and standardisation. In an interview entitled “my camera seems to recognise people” as part of the 2nd Biennale for Contemporary Photography in Mannheim-Ludwigshafen- Heidelberg in 2017, she said: “As someone with a video-activist background who now pursues an artistic activity, I continue to move in the grey area between these two orientations. Over and over again I try to position myself between these fields, one foothold in each, without playing a prescriptive or central role. Art helps me reflect on images, while my video activist and politically motivated background pushes me to delineate my work and define myself.”
Forensic Architecture, known for their investigations into crimes against humanity, presents their research into the murder of Kurdish lawyer Tahir Elci. The investigation into his murder is highly controversial and has led to massive clashes between the civilian population and the Turkish authorities in my hometown of Diyarbakir.
Gianluca Costantini describes himself as an activist-artist. Although he deals with human rights developments on an almost daily basis in many parts of the world, Turkey has a special place in his work. He calls Istanbul his second home. Since the Gezi Park protests in 2013, he has dealt with almost every significant event in the country involving human rights violations.
Alongside local and international positions, I also place an emphatic focus on positions and conflicts in Turkey. This is exemplified in the exhibition through works by artists who have been previously censored for their contributions. Fractured Spine aims to create a space in which artists can therefore claim back their freedom of opinion and speech.
Manuela Hitz, a young Zurich artist, is also involved in this project. Her work shows great sensitivity and is intended to bring a different, new perspective to the subject. Supporting programme Panel discussions, film screenings and performances are an integral part of the exhibition. With an in-depth focus on censorship, art and journalism, the following questions will be critically reflected on: What does freedom of expression mean under an autocratic regime? How can freedom of expression be exercised within the institutional framework of an exhibition? Overall intention and aim To what extent can art and art exhibitions inspire critical thinking in social and political processes? It is intended that through the exhibition and the supporting programme an engagement with a discursive reality that is largely unknown, not only to many people in Switzerland, but also in Turkey itself should emerge. In this way, the exhibition works towards raising awareness and a concurrent improvement of the human rights situation in Turkey. Niştiman Erdede