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

One latest example of the post-Gezi body politics, which demonstrates the crude development of extended dramaturgies of dissidence in an ever more suffocating environment, is the hunger strike of dismissed academic Nuriye Gülmen and teacher Semih Özakça. They are no theatre artists but ‘performers’ nonetheless. Analyzing hunger strikes as performance is not just an effect of the ‘performative turn’ in culture1. Ever since Standing Man, performativity has become part and parcel of Turkey’s protest culture2.

Indeed, hunger strikes require an audience, witnesses who are implicated in the spectacle of disappearing bodies. Through their hunger strike, Nuriye and Semih demanded attention for the thousands of citizens losing their jobs by statutory decree as a result of the post-coup witch-hunt blazing through Turkey’s state institutions. They also demanded their own jobs back. Nuriye Gülmen published a manifesto that underscored a body politics in most performative terms:

“We have decided to put our bodies into hunger so that those turning a blind eye shall hear our voice. The resistance of the public workers was embodied with our physical presence in front of the human rights monument. We resisted the police assaults with our bodies. We resisted the perishing cold of Ankara with our bodies. Today, we are making our bodies the main emplacement of our resistance. We carry the war into our bodies with our own will. On March 11, 2017 we are starting indefinite hunger strike.”3

Nuriye and Semih starved their bodies in prison for 324 days, but they did no get back their jobs. Gezi’s dramaturgy of not being able to breathe has climaxed in Hamlet’s crude point of self-awareness. I shake, choked with nausea, my fist against myself, standing behind the bulletproof glass. Active vanishing is the privilege of the dissenter, but the dissenting body is worth nothing when it is removed from the public eye.

Ich will nicht mehr essen trinken atmen eine Frau lieben einen Mann ein Kind ein Tier. Ich will nicht mehr sterben. Ich will nicht mehr töten. Zerreißung der Fotografie des Autors. (Hamletmaschine, Heiner Müller)

It would have been easier to be a machine, and not have danced the rhythms of dissent, to feel nothing, to be objective like a typewriter, senselessly and frantically typing like the keys on my computer keyboard. No analysis, just ‘words words words’. ‘A lot of words’.


Enter the ghost of Dario Fo:

“The only solution to the crisis lies in the hope of the great witch-hunt against us, especially against young people who want to learn the art of theatre: thus a new diaspora of actors will emerge, who will undoubtedly draw from this constraint unimaginable benefits by finding a new representation.”4

These days, I live with the self-exile of my partner5 and friends in Berlin, most of them runaway Academics for Peace and others, artists at risk from Turkey. When I saw how The Exil Ensemble staged their response to Die Hamletmaschine at the Gorki by interweaving new layers that refer to Syria and the Middle East, the Arabic Spring, a critique of war and religion, my body ached of appreciation. Let us hope that this ghost is not ‘just a devil’.

Pieter Verstraete
Berlin, 20 March 2018

  1. See for instance, Fieldman, Allen. Formations of Violence: The Narrative of the Body and Political Terror in Northern Ireland. Chicago, Il: University of Chicago Press 1991.; Anderson, Patrick. So Much Wasted: Hunger, Performance, and the Morbidity of Resistance. Durham: Duke University Press 2010.; Walsh, Aylwyn. “The Paradox of Dis/appearance: Hunger Strike in Athens as a Performance of Survival”, In: Performing (for) Survival: Theatre, Crisis, Extremity, ed. Patrick Duggan & Lisa Peschel. New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2016: 203-221. []
  2. Verstraete, Pieter. “Türkiye’de Sembolik Siyaset ve Protesto Kültürü: Gezi’den Sonra Yeni Bir Performativite mi?”. In: PRAKSIS, 42 (Nov., 2016/3), Symbolic Politics and Protest Culture in Turkey: A Post-Gezi Performativity?. []
  3. Gülmen, Nuriye. “Declaration of Hunger Strike” in her blog hungryforourjobs (March 2017), https://hungryforourjobs.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/nuriye-gulmen-declanation-of-hunger-strike/ []
  4. 2013, qtd. on World Theatre Day 2017 by Isabelle Huppert, http://www.tcg.org/Default.aspx?TabID=1969 []
  5. I sincerely thank my partner, Dr. Görkem Akgöz, for commenting and proofreading this text. []

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