Uncensored and Brave – and A Little Arabesque: CANAN

Arts & CultureJune 12, 2017
Uncensored and Brave – and A Little Arabesque: CANAN

CANAN is a brave and inspiring artist who has abandoned her last name to free herself form the chains of patriarchy, and strolled around the streets of Bomonti naked. For her, creativity is a therapy, a cure to help her heal. She doesn’t give a damn about anyone or doesn’t worry whether anyone would want to display them while making her works. She deals with issues such as gender politics, history and mythology for over 20 years, CANAN’s business with feminism doesn’t seem to have concluded. 

Each of your exhibitions comprise works that are different in style and form from their precedents. I guess you love change. Do you get bored easily?

I do get bored with repetition. Also, for me, creating something doesn’t just mean hanging an image on a wall; the process I’m going through is also a part of it. The mental images I have multiply, transform and take shape as I create something. Therefore, I enjoy trying out and learning new methods each time I’m putting together an exhibition. I mostly work by myself. For instance, I had to learn sewing to be able to work with tulle curtains though my assistant now helps me with that because of my back pains. (laughs) Health come first, right?

It seems that the fluidity between different branches such as video, installation and photography open up a space of freedom for the artist. But do you also think that this much interdisciplinary diffusiveness decreases the quality of artworks?

I’m not sure how right it is to make professional works by raising the bar too high. Should the goal of the artist be to make shiny and excellent industrial works, or to make art in an individual and free way? I believe that if we’d make every work with a professional team, we’d be left with shiny images with nothing else to say. Also, if we raise the bar too high, can anyone who’s willing become an artist? Art is in the mind. Of course, presentation is vital but you can also do that with simple methods.

How long does it take you to shape an idea into a work?

It can be a decade, or a month. I have a sketchbook; I like to take occasional notes that other people wouldn’t probably be able to decipher. I write and draw things, and sometimes see that it’s taken me 10 years to turn an idea into a work.

So, the idea needs time to mature…

Usually artists deal with multiple ideas simultaneously. (S)he has something to say and strives towards it. That thing – whatever it is – takes shape and matures in time. My works take some time because they usually require hand work.

What is the piece that took you the longest?

I made a video that lasted 2 years. I did it all by myself – the filming, editing and dubbing. I didn’t focus on anything else during that period. It was a period of healing and creativity.

How do you keep your distance from a work while working exclusively on it?

For instance, I didn’t watch that video for 6-8 months after I finished it. I usually cannot stand seeing my works after I finish them. I have this great sense of accomplishment the moment I finish it. I used to light a cigarette after I finish a work but I have quit. I watch it with pleasure for a couple of hours but then cannot bring myself to look at it again! (laughs)

Do you have a work that you wish you’d never done?

No, I own all the things I’ve done so far. But there are instances where I think “It’d be better if I’d done it this way,” after some time.

Could you talk a bit about your solo exhibition at Arter which will be opened in September?

I’m very excited to collaborate with Arter’s team. It’ll mostly be new works but it’s not a retrospective. I cannot tell you much because we haven’t worked on all the details yet; it’s still in progress. But it’ll be opened on September 11.

How is your relationship with Turkish arabesque music?

I listen to it a lot; I’d love to sing but I’m terrible at it! (laughs) I think I have a bit of arabesque and bitter spirit.

Your interest in arabesque can also be seen in the posters for “Nazar Değdi Dünyama.” (It was Worth the Evil Eye into My World)

It was from 2011. We were hanging posters on March 8 with women from Amargi magazine. Back then, unfortunately, rate of femicide was as dangerously high as today. I prepared those posters based on the image of Bergen, an arabesque singer whose husband threw nitric acid on her face. She became famous back in the day and now is very popular. Her life story may upset you but, in a way, almost all women experience those kinds of suffering. Women from different classes and education levels in Turkey experience male violence whether verbally, psychologically, or physically. At home, at school, in the street, or at work… They’re always forced to struggle. I was referring to this in that work.

Where were the posters hung?

Around Beyoğlu and Cihangir. But do you know that hanging a poster on a wall in the street isn’t that easy? There are “poster mafias” so you can hang your poster only on certain places. If you don’t get a permission, they take yours down. As I said, it’s all part of the process. If it’s a public place, you feel a bit worried and have to check if they’ve taken it down; these are also part of creating that work. Actually, preparing the poster is the easy part.

Feminism and activism have recently been on the rise in popular culture. Big brands and celebrities have taken up on this trend and begun to shape their strategies according to that. How do you evaluate this popularization?

If I’m still struggling with patriarchy as a feminist, then it means we still have a long way to go. But it wasn’t like that 10 years ago. There was this backlash when you used the word “feminist.” At least now women own feminism. They know that it’s not a bad thing at all, and that it advocates equality between men and women. There were also people with a patriarchal point of view who believed that feminism was born and dies in the U.S. in the ‘70s. “Feminism is passé, don’t use that word anymore,” they were telling us. But, in time, they had to take back what they said. Feminism has grown, expanded, and become more visible but that doesn’t mean that everything’s solved.

Do you think the concept of feminism can be hollowed out?

Feminist activists celebrate March 8 as Women’s Day. That is a day that represents the struggle of the women, who organize a victory parade along İstiklal Street. That is the image I see when I think about March 8. On the other hand, there are also people who say that “Women are like flowers; mothers are sacred” by giving us flowers, and beat us up when the day is over. I don’t know if anyone buys that.

You’ve displayed your works at venues of all shapes and sizes from small galleries to great museums, from trade fairs to biennales. How important is the platform for you while creating a work or making a decision whether to display it?

I don’t display my works in a place if I don’t like it there. But there are also places that excite me more than usual. Solo exhibitions are an example of that because you get to display not just one work but your identity and concerns as a whole. I also feel enthusiastic about my works displayed in public places.

We also see subjects such as sexual abuse within the family – a topic that most refrain from talking or paying attention to – in some of your works. Are there any people around you who ask you to create “softer” works in terms of content?

Always! People closest to me are afraid that I’m going to get myself in trouble. But these are all jokes in a way; no one actually interferes with my work. I cannot do it any other way; this is the only way I can exist. I try not to self-censor; but sometimes I realize I do it on a subconscious level.

Do you feel concerned while creating a work?

Not when I’m creating it because I don’t include any type of concerns in my creative process. But I have to admit I do feel it when I’m displaying a work.

Could you talk about your miniature works? How did you decide to implement this style?

I think I began fiddling with it in ’98 to criticize the conservative creative process from a superior point of view. But then my motive changed. As I took more and more interest in miniature, I realized that it has a whole other visual language to which I feel close. The imagery we hear in our grandmother’s fairytales such as jinn and demons has its own visual associations in miniature. Maybe that’s the reason it emotionally pulled me in, and I let myself go. I love that feeling of surrender.

Do you see yourself as a traditional artist?

I don’t agree with nomenclature such as “traditional art” or “contemporary art.” You can create traditional works with contemporary materials or vice versa. Art is permanent. I prefer to define myself as just an “artist.”

You’re sometimes defined as an artist who “links the past and the present.” What would you like to say about this?

I have no such inclination. I don’t want or aim to modernize the art of miniature. I only use forms that I enjoy and feel close to. In short, I just create!

Author: Gamze Kantarcıoğlu