Can inner liberty wait for institutions, states and authoritarian structures?
In her letter to an editor friend Fawwaz Traboulasi – initially meant to be an essay on feminism for the Zawaya magazine’s Arab Women issue – Etel Adnan describes different forms of freedom. She tells the story of Ferdaous, a prostitute in prison, who was condemned to death for having killed a savage pimp, and how she refused to get help from from Muhammad Anwar El Sadat, the third president of President Sadat of Egypt, who wanted to save her life in case she apologized for the the cause. Ferdaous’ choice of death over giving up her attitude demonstrates a radical and inspiring example of a dedicated ‘interior freedom’ that Etel refers to. Reyhaneh Jabbari, who was hanged for killing an attempted rapist in 2014, had a similar spirit to Ferdaous. She stayed in prison for seven years and did not beg for help, instead she trusted the law. Like Ferdaous, Reyhaneh is memorialized through a letter – the final one she wrote from prison to her mother.
In her book, Of Cities & Women (Letters to Fawwaz), Etel Adnan wrote: “Under the most oppressive regimes, a man, a woman, can keep and experience their freedom: freedom is a state of mind. It is born (and often dies) in the mind. It’s often called dignity, refusal, rebellion.” [i] Contemplating this statement as well as strong contemporary female figures like Ferdaous and Reyhaneh, I reimagine the means of freedom and its various forms. Like the state of being in love, the experience of freedom knows no bounds, I thought. Recently the photograph of a young couple kissing passionately in their small tent, pitched in the middle of a railway station in Budapest, on their way to Austria [ii], reminded me of Etel’s words once again. It is not easy to wait for that train to come, let alone having to lose everything and leaving one’s homeland to be able to live. This is certainly a sharp and complex state, in which the relation between territoriality and citizenship becomes paradoxical. But the warm kissing marks a crucial moment, a moment of hope for love to heal all sorrow caused by humans.
With this hope in my mind, I look at the ghostly emptiness in the sea in Khaled Barakeh’s Untitled Images – Repetitive Patterns (2015), presented publicly for the first time here in Act of Excision. The absence of the bodies in Khaled’s most recent images, produced as a response to this issue’s theme and that expand on his 2014 Untitled Images series, is meaningful. It refers to turning a blind eye to something that exists ‘far away’ and that these bodies are no longer alive, calling to mind Susan Sontag’s seminal book Regarding the Pain of Others (2014) [iii]. The artist recently shared a photo album entitled Multicultural Graveyard on social media, stating: “Last night [August 28, 2015] more than 80 Syrians and Syrian-Palestinians asylum seekers have drowned in the Mediterranean close to the Libyan shores trying to reach Europe.” [iv] Khaled departs from these images with which he visually plays, and proposes provocative act of erasure to address the ‘refugee crisis,’ “a term that mistakenly ascribes the crisis to the fleeing human beings rather than to anachronistic political institutions” [v].
Watching Şener Özmen’s subtle yet sharp video, How to tell of peace to a living dove? (2015) invites one to imagine people on the streets of Diyarbakır, looking at doves and contemplating the possible meanings of peace. Thinking the unthinkable. Kobane, Cizre, Suruç, İstanbul… so many places, so many ‘wars’. Şener brings a fragile and naive element, detached from the complete mess, to the work: the voice of a child – his son Robin, vocalizing his thoughts in Turkish, the second language he learnt after his mother-tongue, Kurdish. Robin is young, but not at all naive. He is kindhearted, yet realistic. He is the future. He takes the clueless dove seriously, talking with it sincerely and openly. He is conscious. He knows the past. Revisiting his father’s childhood and that of many others, he collected numbers of memories. Yet he still believes in peace. In the middle of fire, this honest dialogue with a dove is a mindful gesture, a great summary of peace in many lands.
Artist Simone Fattal responds to the issue’s title Freedom is a State of Mind, an Etel Adnan quote that lends itself to the issue’s title, with collages from a decade ago. Simone’s collages weaved together here with her co-contributor Etel’s poems from the book titled The Indian Never Had a Horse and Other Poems (1985) and presented online in such a context for the first time provide a multilayered visual and literary reading of brief moments of escapes in everyday life. Using various texts including parts of an interview by filmmaker Simone Bitton along with images with historical, archeological and cosmological references, these images travel through time and mind operating as an open zone and doings so promise a potential exit for escape and dreams. Like poems, collages read fragmentally. Simone’s anachronistic approach to histories and heritage as well as possible dreams dance beautifully with Etel’s witty poems.
Accompanying image-based, artistic contributions, Misal Adnan Yıldız explores Walid Raad’s critical practice and long-term engagement with artistic freedom in an insightful text that departs from the tension between two acts of human nature: preserving and destroying. Adnan develops a crucial argument that Raad’s work offers a distinction between the object-oriented way of history writing and the subject-oriented narrations. Investigating the idea of universal museum, On Walid Raad’s Practice: The Capital of Preserving and The Freedom of Destroying addresses several works from presentations from Sharjah, Paris, Sao Paolo and most recently from Istanbul.
All of the four positions in this Fall ArteZine articulate the notion of freedom as ‘a state of mind’ through contributions that act like artistic and intellectual gestures. Every time one makes a decision, he or she redefines the space of self expression. For some, it means risking their lives. While writing these words and finalizing this issue on a Saturday morning on October 10th came the sad news of two suicide bomb attacks in Ankara at a peaceful rally against war policies in Turkey. The injured/dying people and the survivors who treated them were then attacked by tear gas by the police. Workers, feminists, leftists, trade unionists and members of the Turkish Medical Association among many others… over 100 people who wanted the war(s) to end were killed, and many got injured. We would like to dedicate this issue to every innocent people who died in this attack. Freedom is a state of mind, and it is resistant.