Looking at Art Censorship in Turkey

It is unfortunate that a country with such diverse history and rich culture like Turkey is repeatedly linked to censorship of the arts. One recent incident was in Spain when the Turkish Embassy in Madrid censored an international exhibition organized in 2013 with ARCOmadrid.  In the exhibition booklet, the explanatory notes to artist İz Öztat’s work “A Selection from the Utopie Folder (Zişan, 1917-1919)” was censored upon the request of the Embassy, and the expressions “Armenian genocide” and the date “1915” were taken out. The case shows how the Turkish state delimits artistic expression in the projects it supports, and how it silences the institutions it cooperates with. Pelin Başaran and Banu Karaca wrote a comprehensive article on this issue through Siyah Bant, a research platform that documents and reports on cases of censorship in arts across Turkey, and shares them with the local and international public.

This is not the first case of the Turkish state censoring an arts event it sponsors abroad. We frequently hear about such cases off the record, and at times through the media. One of the best-known cases of state intervention took place in Switzerland, during the 2007 Culturespaces Festival. Director Hüseyin Karabey’s film Gitmek – My Marlon and Brando, which had received support from the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, was taken out of the festival program at the very last minute, at the request of an officer from the General Directorate of Promotion Fund, on the pretext that “a Turkish girl cannot fall in love with a Kurdish boy” as was the case in the film. The officer threatened the festival organisers with withdrawal of sponsorship totaling €400,000 — much like the case of the Madrid exhibition. The festival director decided that they could not go ahead with the event without this support, ceded to the censorship request, and accepted to take the film out of the program. However, independent movie theaters in Switzerland criticised this decision and ended up screening the film independently of the festival.

Both examples show that the state controls the content of the projects it sponsors abroad, interferes with the organizations on arbitrary grounds, and violates artists’ rights by threatening the very institutions it collaborates with.

To read this informative article: International exhibition censored by Turkish Embassy in Madrid.