Pınar Öğrenci is an artist and writer based in Istanbul. Her work has been significantly influenced by war, migration and activist impulses in recent years.
Feeling helpless in the face of the news of so many deaths that kept coming from southeastern Turkey in 2015, she became engaged in an initiative called I am walking for peace. The initiative demanded an end to the murder of the civilian population and called for the peace process to be restarted in 2015 in Turkey.
Öğrenci was arrested on the 31 December 2015, when the I am walking for peace initiative arrived in Diyarbakır, the main city of the Kurdish area of Turkey. Along with 23 peace marchers, she was detained for 4 days. After her release she was the first artists in resident of Artists at Risk-Safe Haven Athens in 2016 funded by the EU Re-Build Refuge Europe project.
DEPO Istanbul is now showing her exhibition Under the Red Sky which brings together war and immigration-themed video works by Pınar Öğrenci. For example the work Mawtini, made up of YouTube videos, (2016) is about the transformation of the Palestinian and Iraqi national anthems into a popular song. Through the evolution of this anthem, which emerged in the golden age of Arab Nationalism, the artist opens a door to think about the fragmented and layered structure of the notion of the nation in the Middle East.
A Gentle Breeze Passed Over Us is an audiovisual testimony to the friendship that evolved between Pınar Öğrenci and the Baghdad-born musician and oud player Ahmed Obaid Shaqaqi last summer in Vienna, who came to Vienna as an asylum seeker via Turkey. He did not even have his oud after his journey. During her forty-day stay in Vienna Pınar spent nearly every day with Ahmed and his friends, absorbing the music he would perform spontaneously with his friends and the stories he would tell late into the night. This audiovisual installation is a story all about resistance. It is about a young Arab man forced to leave the country in which he had spent a youth overshadowed by war. With the help of music, by playing the oud, he tried to build a new life for himself in Vienna. The title A Gentle Breeze Passed Over Us is taken from the song by the Lebanese singer Fairuz. It is a song synonymous with the longing for one’s home country.
We used to play hide-and-seek under the red sky (2017) was produced specifically for this exhibition, stemming from Ahmed’s Baghdad memories. The sky in Baghdad becomes red with the desert storms coming from the Saudi deserts after the American invasion. Red gives its name to the exhibition not only as a symbol of war in the Middle East, but also as a symbol of fascism and dictatorship that is all across the globe at the moment. The artist, who had to travel almost all of 2016, confronts the notion of belonging, having thought extensively about home and homeland. She produces images on the street and in her daily life, moving images that are in motion, just like her. Immigrants who have been displaced from their countries, the winds of the desert, a song that emerged from Palestine and that has reached the streets of Istanbul, sliding texts on signboards, and an oud that is drifting on blue waters… A journey not only of bodies, but economic and cultural symbols.
Dates: 21 April 2017 – 21 May 2017