Speech: Opening of the exposition ‘See through us’.

Though I am born in Holland, my parents are from Bursa/Turkey. And if you are from Turkey yourself, you know what that means…. All men in Bursa are gay. Supposedly… The reason for that is that two of Turkeys biggest  musicians, Zeki Muren and Bulent Ersoy, are both from Bursa….

Zeki Muren was a gay singer, and Bulent Ersoy was born a man and was one of the first people in Turkey to have a sex change. I lived for four years in Turkey with my grandparents. As a child I remember feeling a weird kind of joy, a relief, that these great musicians were loved by them. Because even I could sense that they were perceived as different.

And yet, I am not proud of the culture I grew up in. I am rather ashamed  of their inability to tolerate people who are in their opinion unlike them. And I am rather ashamed of the cruelty that lies in the culture that wants to root out anything that’s different and experiences it as a threat to society.

Homosexuals, transsexuals, they are all reasonably tolerable if they place themselves outside society. By being an artist and thus eccentric. Bulent Ersoy for instance, shows her devotion to Allah at all times. Maybe she is deeply religious, but I sense she is also doing it to reassure the public. They are all fine to live with, if they are not seen or heard in the context of the reality of daily life and most of all: if they do not belong to your family.  If they are not your own child.

Turkey and the culture I grew up in, has treated homosexuals and transsexuals as stepchildren. As bastards. Unwanted, with no right to be alive, no right for status, no right to live with a straight back and be fully accepted in to society. Turkey has neglected its responsibility: To acknowledge and tolerate. A birthright for everyone that is born on its soil.

For me the act of seeing is an act of love. Deep down we all want to be seen. We want to be seen by our parents, by our lovers, by society.

We want to exist in someone’s eye. When we resonate in somebody else’s perception. That is when we feel alive. When we are seen, we know we exist. Otherwise one is all alone in his or her universe. Like sound without echo.

But the act of love that is seeing is not something that is done actively by the seer and passively by the person that is seen. It needs commitment on both sides. The person that is looked at, must be open, vulnerable and make a conscious decision to show herself. The looker must be open, and willing to let go of expectations and concepts.

If seeing and being seen doesn’t change you, then you haven’t really looked.

In this case, the men and women that have willingly shown themselves to Diana, and thus to us, have done their part of the deal. And they have been very courageous.

I am not just talking about the political context. How many of us are brave enough to show our selves when we know, for sure that there is a big possibility that a part of us will be rejected, condemned, ridiculed. When we know we will not be looked at with kind eyes…  And yet these men and women have done so, knowing that they will not always be assured of the shelter of a gallery, but that their images will go out into the world.

They did this, because they want to be seen.

Thank you Diana for your work and for making this possible.

Nazmiye Oral
5 november, Amsterdam