The Memory and Arts | 2018-2021

Hafıza Merkezi (Truth Justice Memory Center) | Co-curator

The Memory and Arts (in Turkey) project –coordinated by Hafıza Merkezi and co-curated by Eylem Ertürk and Sevim Sancaktar in collaboration with Ayşe İdil– was initiated with the aim of building a platform that would contribute to the memorialization of issues related to state violence, gross human rights violations and systematic discrimination. Through looking at contemporary artworks produced and exhibited in Turkey after 2000, the project aims to assess the aesthetic, thematic and critical repertoire that has been accumulated, and to revisit the debates at the intersection of arts and social memory in Turkey. The project aims to cast a look at today’s Turkey through the lens of artistic creations in an environment where the rule of law, human rights and democratic values are wearing out and non-governmental initiatives struggle with all sorts of threats. Opening up an alternative civic space for memory and reconciliation through art and interdisciplinary discussions, the project consists of three phases: research in the archives of art institutions; creation of a selection/archive with a defined framework; and a series of talks accompanied by a publication as the outcome of interdisciplinary working groups on specified themes.

The Selection/Archive

The research team has explored the archives of 40 major art institutions, festivals, and venues in Turkey to identify contemporary artworks (initially in visual arts and performing arts) relating to human rights issues in Turkey produced and exhibited after the year 2000 (until the end of 2019):

  • Biennials/Festivals: Istanbul Biennial, Mardin Biennial, Çanakkale Biennial, Istanbul Theatre Festival, iDans Performance Festival, A Corner in the World, Amber Platform
  • Museums/Galleries: Istanbul Modern, Pera Museum, Sabancı Museum, Arter, Salt Beyoğlu, Salt Galata, Pilot Gallery, Depo, Karşı Sanat, Galata Greek School, Akbank Sanat, Yapı Kredi Kültür Sanat, Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Taksim Art Gallery
  • Performing Arts Venues: Şermola Performans, Çıplak Ayaklar, Galata Perform, İkinci Kat, garajistanbul, Mekân Artı, Kumbaracı50, performistanbul
  • Other Initiatives/Institutions: Diyarbakır Arts Centre, Hafriyat, Atılkunst, 5533, Apartment Project, Loading Art Space, HaZaVuZu, x-urban collective, Domates Biber Patlıcan, siyahbant, July 15 Museum and collaborative solidarity exhibitions of NGOs and the art field
© Ahmet Öğüt, The Swinging Doors (2010) in the exhibition
When Ideas Become Crime @ Depo İstanbul

Within the archives of these institutions, venues, festivals and initiatives and researching related publications for the last 20 years, the team has tried to find basic information related to relevant artworks including photo and video documentation as well as links to the main critics on the exhibitions. 1,670 exhibitions and performances from 40 institutions/venues were scanned and a draft list was created with more than 400 artworks included in the framework. The research team went through this list regularly; examining, selecting and categorising the relevant artworks. In addition to the institutions that already have an archive, the team had to meet and work in collaboration with some initiatives to find out their previous exhibitions and activities, to make them available for the research. The research also included “solidarity exhibitions” developed in cooperation with the arts and civil society fields in order to draw attention to social issues outside these institutions.

Artworks selected within the framework are about but not limited to the coups and massacres including the Armenian genocide and the Kurdish issue, as well as incidents that can be evaluated as gross human rights violations and systematic discrimination against specific minorities, groups and individuals in Turkey. The archive contains works that either follow the traces of state violence and memorialize the past by referring directly to incidents based on facts and testimonies or works that reflect the will for peace by demonstrating a position against state violence with a more indirect and conceptual approach.

The Working Groups and Public Talks

In order to allow for multiple readings, the artworks included in the selection/archive were opened for interpretation by 15 academics, critics and artists from various working fields and debates were carried out within working groups, concentrating on specific themes. Fifteen researchers and activists from the fields of art, social sciences, law and human rights came together regularly for three months in five different groups and developed responses to the artworks in the selection/archive. The scope of issues in the discussions ranged from state violence and artistic practice in Turkey to the representation of violence in artworks and the violence of representation, body and loss related to the Armenian genocide and enforced disappearances in the Kurdish conflict/struggle, and gender-based violence which is directly or indirectly referenced in many artworks. Groups also discussed trauma, memory and testimonies with a focus on women and children as marginalised bodies, as well as a self-reflexive approach to the potential problems of curating artworks in an archive. As the public program coincided with one of the peak points of the Covid-19 pandemic at the end of 2020, the public talks were organized as an online gathering. At the end of each working group below, you can find the links to the video recording of these talks (in Turkish).

1. Political Memory in Arts

Focusing on the relations between the arts and politics, this working group investigated artworks from the selection/archive based on issues related to representation and misrepresentation in the contemporary socio-political climate in Turkey. It sought to respond by bringing together theoretical approaches to political representation and cultural production that portray hegemonic struggles, appropriation in the arts and their impact on collective memory.

Banu Karaca, Nora Tataryan, Tanıl Bora, Sevim Sancaktar, Özlem Zıngıl, Kerem Çiftçioğlu

2. Body, Violence and Memory

This working group focused on the body with all its aspects, in terms of power and fragility in relation to political conflicts, and a site of presence and resistance against violence within the Turkish social context. It revolved around the questions of creating new narrations of memorializing marginalized bodies to question state violence in terms of forced disappearances and systematic discrimination against different ethnic and other minority groups.

Aslı Zengin, Özlem Hemiş, Zeynep Günsür Yüceil, Eylem Ertürk, Gülistan Zeren

3. Testimony

This working group focused on the concepts of testimony, traumatic memory and historical narrative in terms of death, mourning, and disappearances in contemporary political conditions. Issues discussed revolved around personal testimonies, traumatic experiences and “right to the image” in contemporary arts, ranging from building self-testimony through artistic production in prison to the time of childhood in arts and cinema, as well as a focus on death and memory in contemporary arts.

Dilan Yıldırım, Umut Tümay Arslan, Zeynep Sayın, Sevim Sancaktar, Enis Köstepen

4. Archive

This working group focused on the politics of creating archives, how and if past events can be documented and represented within them, and how comparative readings of these archival practices and their relations to processes of historicization can be performed to create pluralistic discourses. A rhizomatic form of interweaving information, a deeper look into practices of listing and archiving, and how other archives/researches exist together and overlap are among the major issues discussed within the group.

Banu Cennetoğlu, Begüm Özden Fırat, Ege Berensel, Ayşe İdil, Gamze Hızlı, Eylem Ertürk, Sevim Sancaktar

5. Violence, Collective Memory and Arts

This working group focused on the concepts at the intersection of art, memory and politics aiming to make a general introduction to human rights issues, state violence, social memory and artistic practices as well as a historical overview of arts in relation to politics within the selection/archive. Subjects of interest differ from the political history of a non-profit art gallery with a focus on the representation of state violence, contemporary art and memorialisation in the last 20 years as well as violence towards and interventions in artistic expressions in Turkey.

Erden Kosova, Ezgi Bakçay, Turgut Tarhanlı, Eylem Ertürk, Meltem Aslan


Ertürk, Eylem, and Sevim Sancaktar, eds. Hafıza ve Sanat Konuşmaları 2020. Istanbul: Hafıza Merkezi, 2021. | The book was published originally in Turkish: ISBN: 978-605-70285-0-1

Ertürk, Eylem, and Sevim Sancaktar, eds. Talks on Memory and Arts 2020. Translated by Baptiste Gacoin. Istanbul: Hafıza Merkezi, 2021. | The English translation is available as an e-book: ISBN: 978-605-70285-5-6

Blog at