The Tate Exchange hosts Who Are We? for the third year with spotlight on artist and journalist Zehra Doğan. Alongside her are: Basel Zaraa (musician and street artist) and Tania El Khoury (live artist) with their performance ‘As Far As Isolation Goes’ about the health experience of refugees and song inspired by conversations with others who have recently claimed refuge in the UK; Tim Butcher’s and his Instagram based storytelling project ‘Tales of Precarity' which will run throughout this exchange, where each day an artist responds to the questions ‘How do we create meaningful public dialogue about the preccarities of artists who risk?’ (see more at @whoarewe_tex); and ‘SoundShapes’, an experience piece brought together by The Open University researchers Inma Alvarez, Carlos Montoro and Mara Fuertes-Gutierrez, building upon the AHRC project Language Acts and Worldmaking and ‘A Stitch in Time’, inviting visitors to walk around and experience the sounds and shapes of languages in hope of challenging them to rate languages depending on personal preference and familiarity.
All in all, this space is alive with interaction and exchange, conversation between artists, viewers, organisers and invigilators alike. Talks and reflections take place through the five day display and visitors are encouraged to spend their time absorbing, contemplating and participating as they wish.
The main attraction has to be Zehra Doğan who was sentenced to two years in prison in Turkey in 2017, aged 27 at the time. Charged with “terrorist propaganda” for a painting she made in which she depicts the invading Turkish army as scorpions in an aftermath of the destruction of Nusaybin, town in southeastern Turkey.
Zehra’s exhibit here ‘Li Dû Man (Left behind)’ exemplifies the aims of this Tate Exchange: “A place for all to play, create, reflect and question what art can mean to our everyday”
The piece comprises of collected objects from the aftermath of war, reiterating her earlier painting for which she was imprisoned, but by taking objects from the debris and bringing them before us here, acting as testimonies to such fatalities in hope of telling “the stories of those who fled, via what they left behind.”
A blanket, burnt and torn hangs at the end of the display, which was used as a barricade to protect villagers from snipers.
“These suspended barricades were not only curtains. They were also armour.”
Alongside the varied items scattered on the floor, almost as if placed back here exactly as they were found with their creases and folds, is a makeshift panel where viewers can read the stories of those still imprisoned. Friends of Zehra’s while she was imprisoned, here visitors are invited to write them letters that will be mailed by PEN International, the NGO who worked to free Doğan.
Also in conjunction with PEN International is a platform for the public to participate by telling their own stories as refugees which will be collected and edited into online and print publications with Zehra, forging the continuation of this project beyond the exchange and bringing to light to the ongoing conflict that this exchange hopes to address.