Turkey: Artistic freedom of expression under threat

7 May 2014

A piece of art was censored in November 2013 during the exhibition titled ‘Will There Be An Intervention?’ at the 23rd Istanbul Art Fair. The exhibit was primarily focused on works of art inspired by the Gezi Park protests, and it included many secular-minded domestic and foreign artists.


The censored piece was a portrait of Erdogan where his face was re-designed with oil and double highways. The curator of the exhibition and the deputy director of the exhibition centre was questioned at the police station, while the work by Nova Kozmikova was removed from the exhibition pending a legal investigation that is still on-going.

Fight against censorship
Yasemin Inceoglu, a professor in the communication department of Istanbul Galatasaray University, said freedom of expression, as an inherent component of human rights, covers all forms of accessing information and spreading one’s own knowledge, expression and thoughts:

“All incidences of censorship and auto-censorship in art should be monitored and reported, as in democracies the most efficient way to fight against censorship is to expose them to the greater public,” Inceoglu said. “There is also a need for co-ordinated efforts among civil society, public authorities, academics, artists and media.”

“There are two magic words to fight against censorship in all spheres of free speech: education and the transformation of the mentality,” she added.

Kurdish censorship
In February 2014, another artist, Gulizar Kilic, faced censorship with the removal from an exhibition at a state-sponsored hall – Mustafa Necati Cultural Centre Exhibition Hall in Ankara – of three portraits of Kurdish women politicians being murdered in Paris in 2013.

The ruling Justice and Development Party is not the only source of censorship, Inceoglu said. There have been also some municipalities in Republican People’s Party strongholds, like Kusadasi, which cancelled a concert that was to include Kurdish songs.

Threats to makers of theatre play
After a newspaper close to Turkey’s ruling AKP described a play entitled ‘Mi Minör’ as a rehearsal for the Gezi Park protests in summer 2013, threats against the playwright, director and actors forced them to flee the country. The play, about a fictional, seemingly democratic country that banned the musical note in the title, was no longer even being performed.

“This is a clear example that there is no freedom of expression in Turkey,” Meltem Arikan, the playwright, told Financial Times in an interview from her new home in the UK. “After you go through something like that, you start wondering: What can I produce now and how?”

» Financial Times – 6 May 2014:
New onslaught on freedom of expression in Turkey
By Selin Bucak

SES Türkiye – 2 April 2014:
Censorship of the arts remains a national concern
Experts say state authorities use various methods to limit artistic expression. Creative expression inspired by social and political issues has long generated controversy, but artists continue to use current events to fuel their work, and are fighting back against criticism and censorship.
By Menekse Tokyay

Index on Censorship – 22 January 2014:
Meltem Arikan on Gezi Park: “What had happened to turn all this into a war zone?”
Turkish author and playwright Meltem Arikan was amongst a small group of people who was accused by senior Turkish politicians and government sponsored media of being the architects of the Gezi Park demonstrations. Arikan shares her personal account of the events
By Meltem Arikan

Index on Censorship – 7 January 2014:
A conversation with Meltem Arikan, Turkish playwright and author
By Julia Farrington

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