On the last day of 2015, I was detained and put in a cell for four days in Diyarbakır, along with friends from the peace initiative that I was part of, Barış İçin Yürüyorum (I Am Walking For Peace). In the early hours of the fourth day of detention, we were first taken to the hospital to receive a report from the medical examiner and then to the courthouse for the court on duty. There were hundreds of people in the hallway. The lawyers of our friends in detention had brought tea and toasted bread. It was the first time we took a sip of a warm drink in the last four days. We were handcuffed but happy to eat something filling. Police officers who surrounded us were giving us condescending looks. Finally, the court case started and we gave our testimonies one by one. The court could not be resolved as there were too many detainees. Towards the evening, the lawyers who walked out from the courtroom told us that several people, including myself, would most likely get arrested. I was expecting this but I felt like I was crushed under a rock when I heard it from a lawyer. I was going to end up in jail in almost half an hour and I wouldn’t be able to see any of my friends, including those I was detained with. What could I do? I had to come up with an idea quickly. How would I spend my life in a prison of a city I barely knew? I asked the lawyers, “Is there Internet inside?” They mocked me: “Yes, you even have cell phones there.” I knew it was a silly question, but how would I spend time inside? One of them said, “The comrades will take good care of you, don’t you worry.” Yes, I could read many books, improve my English, and learn Kurdish. I could have plenty of time for writing, too. But I was scared. What would happen to my home or the life I left behind in Istanbul? I was detained for the first time in my life, without prior knowledge or experience to prepare myself for what was going to happen.
I asked my friend for a pen. He had one in his bag. I removed the foil paper from the box of cigarettes, “Ahtamar,” I had in my pocket and started writing my will on the scuffed paper. I was handcuffed and trembling with fear. My friend tried to calm me down: “We’ll get out of here, believe me.” I had no hope. I wrote a will, asking a friend to pay my rent within the first five days of each month and to take care of my flowers, an artist friend to take care of MARS, the art initiative I am the founder of. A police officer approached and forcibly took the pen from me, just as I was about to write, “Come and visit me. And bring books.” That moment, I learned that I was not allowed to write anything. I grabbed my will that I dropped on the floor, crumbled it, and gave it to a friend who hid it in a package of tobacco. After a little while, we learnt that we were released on probation. I hugged all the lawyers I could find around me. I couldn’t believe it. We were free.
This trauma created a major rupture in my life as I knew it. Nothing feels the same any more. I cannot dream about the future. I stand trial with 18 years of heavy imprisonment and my future depends on a judge’s decision. My lawyer is under surveillance so we can’t really talk openly. The trouble is that everything has gone worse since then: Hundreds of people are jailed pending trial, and even MPs are detained… I don’t know if it’s possible to hold on to hope now. But I cherish every day more than the previous one. At least, I’m out, I’m alive, and I appreciate all of this.
This experience taught me that all of a sudden people could lose their most basic needs like breathing fresh air or having tea. I can enjoy neither Istanbul, nor my beautiful home in Osmanbey that I’ve been trying to prevent from demolishment. I live ready to say goodbye to everything.
Before the first hearing in May, considering that I could get arrested, I sorted out the books I wanted to read. I organized them by themes and left them on my table. I thought my friends would mail them to me. I decided who would become the custodians of my plants and what plant matched which friend. I took notes—who is resilient, fragile, happy, or proud, who is a nomad like myself, who listens to me the most, who knows my secrets, etc. I also figured out what personal items I would want to have shipped to me.
During the four days of detainment, I also thought about how I would make art works. I would take notes as long as I have a pen, and send them to my friends in Istanbul through lawyers. Who knows what I could do if I had a small camera. This was another silly thought, just like the Internet question.
I’m writing this text from Oslo. I could live here if there were a bit more sunshine. I’ve been here for the last three weeks and I still haven’t seen the sun. Sometimes I ask myself, which one is more urgent—freedom or sunshine? How will I protect myself? Under what circumstances will I be able to be free? If I manage to sort this out, I will start thinking about what happens to my artworks and to my written words.
Pınar Öğrenci (b. 1973, Van) is a visual artist and writer based in Istanbul. Öğrenci uses various media, such as photography, video, performance, and installation to explore the notions of city, technology, collective movements, war, migration, and memory. Since the late 1990s, Öğrenci has extensively written on contemporary art and architecture in various publications, including Agos, Radikal, ArtUnlimited, m-est.org, SALT Online, Arkitera, Arredemento Mimarlık, İstanbul, and XXI, among others. In 2010, Öğrenci founded MARSistanbul, where she collaborates with artists and curators to develop exhibition projects.
Translated from Turkish by Özge Ersoy
For the original text, click here.
Vasiyetimdir* is a publication project that aims to explore how art works will subsist over long periods of time. Art works live in artist studios, private collections, museums, storage spaces, or simply in memories. But how far do the artists want to control what happens to their works when they are no longer? How do they want to exert their control? We directed these questions to the artists we are in dialogue with. We are accumulating their answers through m-est.org.
*Vasiyetimdir is a Turkish phrase that can roughly be translated into English as “It is my will that…” The phrase holds a tint of the melodramatic, mixed with a sentimental flair.
Vasiyetimdir was conceived by Aslı Çavuşoğlu, Özge Ersoy, and Merve Ünsal.