The climate crisis might not the most pressing issue in Turkey, but citizens' awareness is growing. Interest for the traveling exhibition "Cartoons for Future," currently in Izmir, is proof that attitudes are changing.
A stork flying with a baby in a little cloth bundle meets a grumbling crow, struggling as it carries its own bundle of stinking garbage. "Clean the world" is the title of this drawing by the Turkish artist Menekse Cam.
The drawing is one of a total of 100 works by 2,500 international artists selected by the organizers of the exhibition "Cartoons for Future." Following its opening show in Dortmund, the exhibition can now be seen in Izmir, in western Turkey, until March 30. Several new drawings were added to the first exhibition, while new climate-related tragedies are grabbing the world's attention, whether the fires ravaging Brazil and Australia or flooding in Venice.
Artist Menekse Cam brought the exhibition to Izmir. She is visibly proud of this achievement, knowing that artistic freedom is under threat in Turkey. The people here have always been modern and open-minded; there's always been a special attitude in Izmir, she explains.
The exhibition also received major support from Izmir Mayor Tunc Soyer, of the Republican People's Party (CHP), and the Adnan Saygun Cultural Center, where the exhibition "Cartoons for Future" can be seen.
Climate issues rather abstract in Turkey
The cartoons addressing the climate crisis have been well received by exhibition visitors and the Turkish media. Other cities such as Istanbul and Ankara have also expressed their interest and want to hold the show there as well.
Exhibition curator and cartoonist Bernd Pohlenz is thrilled by the news: "It is a special challenge to offer a cartoon exhibition on the climate crisis in Turkey, in a country whose population is affected by completely different and really significant conflicts on a domestic and a geopolitical level," he told DW.
The everyday lives of people in Turkey are affected by unemployment and high levels of private debt, points out Pohlenz, who adds that many people's feelings of anxiety towards the environment are related to knowing that their lives could be suddenly affected by the next big earthquake. For most people, the global climate crisis remains rather abstract.
Protests against government's construction contracts
Awareness has nevertheless been growing in recent years, especially among the younger generation. The first Fridays for Future groups are being formed, even though the movement is not yet very strong.
The government is also being criticized for its environmentally destructive projects, for instance, the construction of the new major Istanbul airport, the clearing of a nature reserve to build the presidential palace, as well as the plans to dig an alternative waterway west of Istanbul, known as the "Istanbul Canal."
Menekse Cam explains that the population constantly has to fight with their elected politicians to make sure they truly represent them. The Gezi protests in 2013 were another example of this.
Turkey's tourism industry is also concerned about the preservation of nature. "The situation is particularly bad in Turkey. In photos from Google Earth we see how many green spaces have disappeared here over the past 17 years," Cam points out. "Especially in recent years we have experienced an unprecedented devastation." She adds that if politicians and people do not change their approach, Turkey will be one of the countries that will pay the highest price in the course of the climate crisis.
'Good cartoons don't need long texts'
That's why the exhibition is so important, as it explains with the universal language of art the explosive nature of the climate crisis, says Cam. Cartoons are an activist art, she adds.
"Good cartoons don't need long texts," says Pohlenz. "They should be immediately understandable for everyone worldwide and open up a space for vision and surprises, for new perspectives." The curator feels that many artists have an "early warning system" allowing them to tune into issues that many other people prefer to avoid: "It may be the task of artists to pave the way for new ideas for the future, regardless of whether they seem threatening or bring hope."
That's why the exhibition organizers are happy to see that the show is reaching a broad audience: "Along with youths and adults, there are more and more primary schools coming too," says Cam. "That's how we're approaching our goal" — to raise awareness of the climate emergency in the entire country.