The steps of the beautiful old buildings of Pera, where my studio is in Istanbul, are the new nests for the Syrian refugees that suddenly find themselves in the middle of this chaotic city. My country is hosting more than half of the Syrian refugees of the civil war, totalling to 3.5 million. 250 thousand Syrian babies have been born in Turkey… Almost half a million of them are in Istanbul... Perched on the steps or by the sidewalks. Not knowing what next, where to go or what to do.
This is not the first time that I witness such a social calamity as a result of political chaos. I grew up on the Aegean coast, namely Söke. Söke once was a town inhabited by Turks and Greeks. After the First World War, the Christian Orthodox on Turkish side and Muslims in Greek side were forced to go through a barter arrangement where both parties left their homelands- most of their belongings, friends, neighbours, lovers to go and live in a new land they knew nothing of except sharing the same religion. Our housekeeper from my childhood, Nazmiye hanım, was a lady who came from Crete to Söke. She spoke Turkish with a dialect, however she was fluent in Greek and my childhood was full of her stories of the beautiful island.
Years later, with tears in my eyes, I read ‘Birds without Wings’ by Louis de Berniéres. I could picture Nazmiye hanım in those pages. Very different than Syrian refugees in Istanbul today, she and her family had a roof on top of their heads, however it did not make them feel any different... Perched, unable to fly, unable to move...
I started making this series of hot-blown perched swallows during a residency at Berlin Glas past April. These birds with their closed wings almost look like the image I have in my mind of Berniéres birds without their wings. It is evident to me now that my perception of these social tragedies continues to leave me with a heavy heart and I can no longer try to look in another direction. I want to make sure we see them and they see us. I want others to witness this tragedy. I want to be able to place these beautifully crafted yet fragile birds around public spaces in Western Europe to increase awareness for all in need.
Since it's first showing at Pergamon Museum in Berlin, 'Perched' has grown in numbers. A flock of 99 swallows are now on route to two new destinations: 41 of them will be shown starting with the 'Refugee Week' organised at V&A, London as of 16 June through 30 November 2018 while yet another group will be part of a curated show, 'Oh What a World, What a World' at Visual Art Center of New Jersey opening 1st of June and continuing through September 9th. I myself will be accompanying my swallows to these new destinations, reinforcing their story..