Every country has its dirty stories. In Canada, we could point to the continuing theft of land and resources from First Nations; the environmental devastation and human cost of the Alberta tar sands; or the Highway of Tears (to name a few).
In the case of Turkey, a particularly dirty story from their recent past is the 1980 coup that saw hundreds of thousands of detentions, and widespread human rights abuses including torture, lengthy jail terms, and executions for political dissidents and civilians. It is not a popular memory.
This month, the exhibition “Dirty Stories” opened at the BM SUMA Art Center in Istanbul’s Karaköy district. The show presents 30 artists working in a range of media to excavate and transform the memory of Turkey’s dirty war into some kind of new and contemporary understanding. As we’re fond of saying on our war memorials in Canada – “Lest We Forget”, indeed.
The works range in content and form including various kinds of memorial for individuals killed in the coup; poems against censorship crumpled and left on the gallery floor for visitors to take; a gun chiseled on a tombstone; photographs of muzzled artists.
As Turkey continues to struggle with the memory of its recent political past, and continued censorship and challenges to artistic and expressive freedom, the exhibition is bound to stir public controversy. Kudos to the artists and gallery for taking the risk of remembering in order to transform the present and protect the future.