Turkey’s Artists at Risk: Dramaturgies of Resistance vs. Politics of Fear


Coming back to Müller/Hamlet’s multiple perspectives, which steered me to analyze the individual theatre artist’s response-ability vis-à-vis Turkey’s multifaceted authoritarianism, I am prompted by Henri Lefebvre’s critique of capitalism through rhythm analysis:

“In order to grasp and analyse rhythms, it is necessary to get outside them, but not completely: be it through illness or a technique. A certain exteriority enables the analytic intellect to function. However, to grasp a rhythm it is necessary to have been grasped by it; one must let oneself go, give oneself over, abandon oneself to its duration.”1

In analysing the rhythms of Gezi, including its extended dramaturgies of dissent, the body stands central. The ‘machine’ in Shakespeare’s English was indeed the body. Like Lefebvre’s description, my body too was captured by the events while I was trying to make sense of it all intellectually.

Political theorist Zeynep Gambetti names the body the very materiality of the Gezi protest, a body politics:

“The government, whose tactlessness prompts these resisting and standing bodies to convene again and again every single day, could not have missed the significance of this body politics. These bodies naturally do have a language, even a few languages that are at times congruent and at others incongruent; however, as a whole, they constitute a politics of the body. The rage and dramas that have been embodied in tweets and graffiti since 31 May turn into material realities through the physical existence, visibility, and endurance of the bodies. If history is being rewritten, then its subject is the body.”2

The textbook example of this vulnerability and endurance was Standing Man (in Turkish, duran adam), who put his body at risk on Taksim Square at the moment when all hope seemed lost. On 17 June 2013, dancer and choreographer Erdem Gündüz3 stood still for more than eight hours in front of the Atatürk Cultural Centre (AKM) draped with Atatürk’s effigy, a lonesome figure staring into the eyes of the mute founding father of the Turkish Republic by way of questioning or asking for a response, just like Hamlet did from his fatherly ghost appearance.

Within theatre scholarship, much attention has been spent on Standing Man for its ‘non-movement’ or ‘non-action’ potential, both as a political and an aesthetic expression4. There was a general preoccupation with the body, the stillness of standing5 as political, or its aesthetic resemblance to modern dance theatre6 that appropriated protest aesthetics of the body. As Susanne Foellmer remarks, Standing Man testifies of this kind of artistic practice “migrating into temporary forms of political protest.”7

However, the strength of the Standing Man’s image was exactly its political openness, its multiperspectivism, and its non-violent representation of resistance immediately embodied by a collective protest body. The standing body is the perfect locus for a rhythm analysis of all surrounding movement. It calls for reflection, a heightened perception of oneself in the midst of the World. Moreover, as I have explored elsewhere8, Standing Man presented a cunning play with symbols and signs, and with regimes of visibility and representation, particularly questioning Kemalism in the present-day state of the Turkish nation. According to Kivanc Atak, it gave cultural legitimacy and opportunity to embody the Diren! (i.e. “resistance”) master frame (della Porta & Mattoni 2014), as was also suggested by the Communist (TKH) movement’s banner, boyun eğme (“do not bow”), hanging from the AKM building, before it got replaced with Atatürk’s portrait.

One particular aspect of the resistance to regimes of representation and perception, as I pointed out, was a performative strategy called ‘active vanishing’, “a deliberate and conscious refusal to take the payoff of visibility”9. Erdem Gündüz’s sudden disappearance from the social media broadcast and the plurality of versions that followed by thousands of people across the globe enhanced an active vanishing, where everybody could be Standing Man. Everybody could be a hero, or an anti-hero by not acting, not moving along the regime’s defined well-behaviours. Civil disobedience was turned into a spectacle that was enjoyable, despite the body’s vulnerability in the face of possible police harassment.

Standing Man also close-fitted the dramaturgies of the Turkish Left that have reclaimed this vulnerability through the trope of not being able to breath due to the many fumes of gas. There are certainly resonances with the rallying cry, ‘We can’t breathe’, in the U.S. An open-air concert night, dubbed ‘Gazdan Adam Festivali‘ (Gas Man Festival) was quickly organized on 7 July 2013 in the Kadiköy district to protest the exaggerated use of teargas. In the humorous reference, the resisting body, the exhausted body, the intoxicated body played the lead role. Occasionally, versions of the standing men would return, like for instance, the standing couple (duran çift10, which stood near the place where previously a bomb exploded on 13 February 2016 in Ankara’s city centre Kizilay. This was, however, a rare moment since all forms of protest had been removed from the public eye and public space by ceaseless police surveillance.

  1. Lefebvre, Henri. Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life. Trans. Stuart Elden & Gerald Moore. With introduction by Stuart Elden. London & New York: Continuum 2004, p. 27. []
  2. Gambetti, Zeynep. “Occupy Gezi as Politics of the Body”. In: jadaliyya (9 July 2013), http://www.jadaliyya.com/Details/29026/Occupy-Gezi-as-Politics-of-the-Body. []
  3. Gündüz is affiliated with ÇATI, aka Çağdaş Dans Sanatçıları Derneği/Contemporary Dance Artists’ Association, in Istanbul. []
  4. Turkish choreographer and cultural theorist Bedirhan Dehmen commented for instance that with Standing Man, inertia (non-activity) can be active: “eylemsizlik duran adamla birlikte bir eylem haline dönüştü”.
    p. 124, Verstraete, Pieter. “Still Standing? A Contextual Interview with ‘Standing Man’ Erdem Gündüz”, In: In der Welt der Proteste und Umwälzungen: Deutschland und die Türkei, Göttingen: V&R Unipress 2015, 5:121-136. []
  5. Salutin, Rick. “Turkey’s ‘Standing Man’ and the Iconography of Non-Violence”. In: thestar.com (21 June 2013), http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2013/06/21/turkeys_standing_man_and_the_iconography_of_nonviolence.html. []
  6. Ersöz, Ayrin. “Dancer’s Stillness in Public Space Resists the Choreography of the Authoritarian Mobility”, In: Performing Arts and Public Space, Istanbul: DAKAM 2014: 101-10. []
  7. p.59, Foellmer, Susanne. “Choreography as a Medium of Protest”. In: DRJ 48.3 (Dec. 2016): 58-69. []
  8. Verstraete, Pieter. “Türkiye’de Sembolik Siyaset ve Protesto Kültürü: Gezi’den Sonra Yeni Bir Performativite mi?” Trans. Symbolic Politics and Protest Culture in Turkey: A Post-Gezi Performativity?, PRAKSIS, 42 (Nov., 2016/3).
    https://www.academia.edu/35437593/Symbolic_Politics_and_Protest_Culture_in_Turkey_A_New_Performativity_after_Gezi. []
  9. p. 19, Phelan, Peggy (1993). Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. London & New York: Routledge. []
  10. http://www.ensonhaber.com/ankarada-duran-cift-eylemi-2016-03-14.html []

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