I have just returned to a typically freezing London from six days in an unseasonably warm Istanbul, The Pansy Project was invited by Homotopia Festival to embark on a week of research and cultural exploration culminating in an intervention at The British Consulate who generously supported the Excursion. As has become the norm, much of my travels with The Pansy Project involve the discussion and contemplation of the differing experiences of homophobia in the city both personally and culturally.
"Ibne!" Taksim Square, Istanbul, For Mehmet Sander
My interest lies in the geography of the urban environment and its impact on the experience of the city through the lense of the threatened city dweller. Just one of the highly knowledgeable locals who I met was Mehm,t Sander, whose insights and anecdotal evidence evoked a picture of resistance and activism against a political system that appears to accept rather than challenge the experiences of its gay, lesbian and transsexual citizens.
Istanbul like all cities has a complex position on homophobia; the Turkish government choose not to define crimes as homophobically motivated even if evidence suggests otherwise. Recently State Minister Selma Aliye Kavaf expressed her views on homosexuality; “I believe homosexuality is a biological disorder, a disease. It needs to be treated” a depressing opinion that has no place in a modern world. The Turkish police have been implicated in some homophobia and transphobic violence toward the relatively large and thriving transsexual community. As usual I have no conclusions to make given the inexplicable hatred of people connected simply by their sexual tastes, and identity selection which lies outside of the hetero-normative mass though as ever I am determined to continue making this artwork in response to institutional, political and individual displays of homophobia.
The intervention at the British Consulate consisted of several elements. Pansies were placed around the gardens of Pera House often in an unusual or ‘queer’ location; two thin lines of pansies augmented the garden of the Consulate and refer to the ‘thin red line' military phrase. A single pansy was planted on the lawn in front of Pera House the photograph of which as ever shows a pansy dominating the foreground of the scene; in this case the British Consulate decorated with the Union Jack is a symbol of British presence in Turkey and operates as support of The Pansy Project and Homotopia’s commitment to challenging homophobia in Turkey. In addition to the photograph and pansy lines I placed a window box filled with pansies on just one window of the building, an inexplicable and ineffective way of brightening up this imposing building, the oddness and ineffectiveness of this decorative object refers alludes to the apparently ineffective methodology of using planted pansies to fight homophobia.
Finally invited guests and representatives of various organisations including Amnesty International to another small line of pansies each attendee was able to plant a flower behind the next as if collectively preparing to march against homophobia. Jessica Hand HM Consul-General had this to say about the project; "At a first glance, all are pansies but each pansy is different from the other. This is how it is in the society we live in; though we all look alike, we are different from each other”.
It is perhaps an unusual position for an artist such as myself to be in; representing a 'guerrilla gardening' project within the walls of a consulate, but whether the pansies I plant are actual or symbolic locations each image is intended to communicate the same message, one of quiet anger, the micro memorial made epic through photography, a message of intolerance, of intolerance.
So amid the jostling crowds, Victorian trams and evocative sound of the call to prayer there was the opportunity to make new connections and solidify old. The hope for both Homotopia and The Pansy Project is to return to Istanbul where either or both can engage more publicly with new audiences. Istanbul is an amazingly beautiful city, filled with danger, threat and tragic tales of despair to stories of activism and resistance to hatred; in this respect it’s not that different from any modern city.
A special thanks to all those that made this fascinating trip possible, as ever my research continues.....