While heightened political tensions between Turkey and Europe grab the world's attention, an exhibition at Berlin's Schwules Museum refreshingly highlights the queer community's bridge between Berlin and Istanbul.
Displaying 12 artists' works exploring the queer dialogue between Turkey and Germany, the exhibition "ğ - the soft g," on show at Berlin's Schwule Museum* (Gay Museum*) doesn't shy away from politics.
Regardless of the limited space - the museum dedicated one large room to the show - the exhibition provides insight into an otherwise hidden part of the Turkish cultural legacy.
The Berlin - Istanbul liaison
"We used the letter ğ to describe the show because it's a hybrid letter that appeared in the Turkish alphabet in 1928, after the transition from the Perso-Arabic to the Latin alphabet," Emre Busse, co-curator of the exhibition, told DW. "It's a metaphor for how Germans and people from other nations usually don't know how to articulate the sound, so they mispronounce our names. We see a queer possibility in this act that gives us a new identity," he added.
The exhibition, subtitled "Queer forms migrate," demonstrates how Germany helped shape the Turkish LGBTIQ* community, directly or remotely.
Most of the participating artists were born in Turkey but later settled in Germany, which is also Emre Busse's case. He was born in Istanbul and graduated from Bauhaus University in Weimar two years ago. He then moved to Berlin, where he started working as a filmmaker and curator.
The exhibition also presents artworks by a Kurdish, a Singaporean, and a Dutch artist.
From drag queens to lesbian sex toys
The big, hazel eyes of the famous drag character Fatma Souad, framed with fake lashes and raised, sharply defined eyebrows, steal the attention as she smiles from her portrait by artist Cihangir Gümüştürkmen, posing stiffly in a campy ensemble of a red dress and a golden necklace.
In front of her, there's a shoe, a dildo, and a lace tablecloth, an allegory for lesbian coitus by Nilbar Güreş.
While the exhibition focuses in large part on sexuality and eroticism, there are also pieces of a private, inner nature, such as Ming Wong's sound installation about his music teacher's personal story.
Turkey's unspoken position
As Busse admitted, it wouldn't be easy for him to stage an exhibition where a leather sling stands next to abstract photos of sweaty floors in Turkey right now.
"There is no official policy against the LBGT people, but, for instance, the pride parade was cancelled last year. The authorities said the date overlapped with Ramadan, that it wasn't appropriate to show sexuality during the holy months. Well, I wonder what will happen in the next years," Busse said.
"I see many of my queer friends fleeing Turkey these days. The state abuse is getting harsher, but at least it's finally visible," he said, hinting that any apparent departure from heteronormativity is still punished in his home country.
Queer imagery meets symbols of political resistance and of state oppression in this work by Erinç Seymen
It's all about survival
Busse is definitely not happy about the fact that Turkish politicians have been coming to Europe to campaign recently. "Freedom of speech is one thing, but I believe there is a certain rise of fascism that needs to stop. We see that democracy doesn't work in Turkey anymore, which is why I lost hope in the elections," he said. "What's happening right now, and not only in Turkey but also in Germany and other countries, is that right-wing extremism is rising every day."
"This chaotic atmosphere doesn't allow people - queer or not - to concentrate on their lives. You have to survive first, but if this strategy becomes your life, living becomes quite exhausting."
The exhibition "ğ - the soft g" is on show at the Schwules Museum* in Berlin until May 29, 2017.