Yearning for Turkish

Yearning for Turkish is the first exhibition presented in the frame of City in Translation. 

The works in the Yearning for Turkish exhibition have been exhibited as part of the TransArtation! project, from 31 March to 8 April 2017 at The Byre Theatre in St Andrews, and from 12 to 25 April 2017 at The Shoe Factory Social Club in Norwich. 

The exhibition is also available to view online

Yearning for Turkish focuses on the first language I have ever learned: Turkish. 

When I walk; I observe, I get lost, I find myself in the many human traces left across urban spaces. These include shop or street names, slogans on T-shirts, advertising, graffiti, art works in galleries and in public spaces. 
Once you start to look for languages around you, you never experience the spaces you occupy in the same way. 

I am a literary translator; I always see the world that surrounds me in multiple languages and in translation. I recognise some of my languages – like Turkish – even in places where it is not meant to be. A word may be unintentional, that doesn’t make it inexistant. Many of these words are awakened by my imagination, and find new life in translation.
— Canan Marasligil

The photographs presented in Yearning for Turkish were captured between 2012 and 2017, and are presented under seven themes: Political ● Immigration ● Empire ● Resistance ● Empathy ● Imagination ● Common Language.

Not Alone

What do you think one finds when googling not alone copenhagen?

Yep, Michael. Michael Jackson. 

Then I look into just awaken not alone, and it's a whole spiritual quest that awaits me.

So I'm zooming in further - like I do when looking for more "clues" to build a narrative. I focus on the "CC:CC" - then "CC:CC Not Alone". 

And I stumble upon I'M NOT IN LOVE - the song. The 1975 hit song from UK band 10cc.

Google sometimes takes you to... un(fill in whatever you like) places.

And you know what this time, I'm not going to try to find out what the links are between cc, love, awakening, loneliness... I'm just going to look at the world passing me by...

and enjoy the reminder... that I am not alone. 

Also, there's always pop music to keep us company -if you want. 

A Conversation on the Walls

The traces we leave on our cities' walls are always fascinating, no matter the language. My focus here being on translation, I look at text that is not in the "official" language of a city I am exploring (this definition may change from place to place of course). In the case of Copenhagen, as I explained on this site, I am looking at languages other than Danish. You may have realised throughout the explorations I present here that many of these happen to be in English. It remains intriguing to see how the words are expressed, what they are trying to say and why they appear in one particular place. It gets even more interesting when you end up eavesdropping in the middle of a conversation painted on a wall. A multilingual conversation nonetheless, with words responding to one another in curious ways.

I came across this particular graffiti near my Copenhagen apartment. It isn't really in a public space since it's a wall in the entrance of a building separated from the street by a usually closed fence door. One day, I was lucky to find the fence open, so I went in and captured the words with my camera.

I immediately looked at the English words, not paying much attention to what was surrounding them at first (thinking it was in Danish so it fell out of my exploration area). 

I could hear the strong F sounds of the carefully painted - almost calligraphed,
Future and Female. The gesture of painting, seems to me, is different than the one of tagging, and I feel it smooths the intensity of the statement in a positive way. I don't feel attacked but rather invited into idea that indeed, our future is female.   

Such statements may mean different things depending on who views them, I personally don't want to keep it entrapped in one so-called original meaning - even if it does exist. For instance, this NY Times article mentions the radical feminist history and the ’70s lesbian separatist moment behind the slogan, which origintated in a New York bookstore in 1975, and has been reprinted on a T-shirt, which raised much attention and criticism.  Whether we want to talk about LGBTQ rights, women rights or the fight against misogyny, I am happy to see these four words: The Future is Female on a Copenhagen wall and I feel we do all have the freedom to embrace it as we wish. 

Now that I am reflecting back on these words and observing the image I captured on my camera more closely, the words surrounding the initial statement that caught my attention start appearing to me. There is a conversation going on this wall. I try to decipher the responses:

First there's Læs Martinus Kosmologi, written in green, which means "Read Martinus's Cosmology". Further online research brings me to Mr. Martinus's website, where I found out that 

At the age of 30 the Danish writer and mystic Martinus (1890-1981) had a series of profound, illuminative spiritual experiences, after which he experienced – through his intuition – that the universe was pervaded by infinite love and wisdom. He created 100 symbols and wrote more than 6000 pages that describe a coherent world picture, the eternal, spiritual laws and a path to theoretical cosmic insight.

I couldn't find a clear link to the initial message in this spiritual response, which shows that again, we all may interpret words very differently. However, it intrigued me to learn about this Mr Martinus and his spiritual quest. 

On the right side of the picture, one can see a drawing of scissors with the words Klipp Kuken!, which according to my online research are in Swedish. And further googling shows this particular slogan has been used on some feminist websites, with one clearly saying "Time to cut your dick!" They may be speaking back to Mr Martinus, or simply confirming that indeed the "future is female" ... but for that we need to cut a few cocks. The possibilities are endless.  

Three strangers speak to each other on a wall, all interpreting their own versions of being a woman, of feminism, of spirituality, of love... of their perspective of the world. An extraordinary conversation happening in three languages. Didn't I tell you translation is everywhere? And oh, how exciting it is to decipher!


Good Bless

Walking down Købmagergade, with tourists, shoppers, students, UNICEF volunteers, bicycles... 

They don't see that man and his dog. 

I don't see him either. Nor his stuffed puppy. I see the sign. Because I am obsessed with words in the streets, remember? 

I see the few words handwritten in Danish. Just when I am ready to turn my head and walk away, I notice a few more words at the end of his note.

Words in translation:


I want to capture a photograph of the sign.

Now, I see the man. I don't want to be intrusive with my camera. His gaze is turned towards the floor - or his fluffed puppy. I snap from afar.

I get closer, he is still looking at the gray concrete squares. Good. I can snap again.  

The UNICEF lady seems to be pointing at him. Or walking towards him. She is probably as bored as he is from being ignored systematically by the walkers. 

Charity and pain remain invisible.

I look more closely at the sign. I stumble upon the last two words: "good" and "bless". 

good bless 

The man has lost faith in God. Not in good. The man has a fluffed puppy.

That man who is silently shouting to the world his vanished faith in god. He is trying to remind us about good, silently, as we all walk by. 

In silence.

No escape for fun

On many occasions during my city walks, I came across REFUGEES WELCOME posters and stickers placarded throughout neighbourhoods of Copenhagen. My initial thought was, why not write this in Arabic or in other languages from the countries where many of these refugees come from if we want to make them feel welcome? Immediately after that first impression, I came to the realisation that this message was not aimed at refugees but at the general public. To raise awareness on the plea of these people escaping a place where they cannot remain alive.  

Superkilen, in Nørrebro. Photo by Canan Marasligil

Being in Copenhagen, I did wonder why this message wasn't in Danish. Wouldn't it have a higher impact? Most Danish people know English you might argue. Which is true. These posters and stickers are also not only aimed at the passers by, but also to wider audiences across the internet, especially through the use of social media. 

That message that is now spread across Europe and beyond, and it is understood by most, refugees and non refugees alike. No matter your level of knowledge of the English language. 

Then zooming into the photograph, I see Danish texts surrounding the English REFUGEES WELCOME. The ANTIFASCISTISK - 1 MAJ above, which I don't really need a dictionary to understand.  

Copenhagen city centre. Photo by Canan Marasligil

And this sentence above, Ingen flygter for sjov! I could decipher the word "flygter" because of my knowledge of Dutch ("vluchteling" means "refugee"), but still needed further investigation to make sure I understand it:

No escape for fun.

A clarification on why REFUGEES WELCOME.

I started to think about the reason for this redundancy: the very definition of a refugee contains that understanding that they are not "escaping for fun". But, as we now more than ever -and especially our leaders- need to be reminded that refugees are indeed welcome, we are also in desperate need to be reminded of why, in all possible languages. So that we understand. Clearly. 

As the recipient of these messages, placarded in our cities, hash-tagged in our timelines, I analyse and translate the words in my mind, and yet I remain powerless. The meaninglessness of this exercise daunts on me like a slap.

No escape for fun. No escape for fun keeps resonating in my head. I think about the emptiness of this exercise then I stumble upon an extraordinary initiative "The Refugee Phrasebook" to help create a multilingual phrasebook for refugees and people who wish to help them. Translation is only one step forward, but it is a major one. It has the power to link people from different places, with different levels of knowledge. Looking back at my first reaction of why isn't this message rendered in the languages the refugees understand, I had in mind a person fleeing persecution and death, I imagined her wandering the streets of any European city, looking around, lost in translation. Even the other languages she may know wouldn't help, like Dutch sometimes helped me with understanding Danish. Having access to such a phrasebook can be a life saver. These people have enough burden to carry emotionally, physically. Offering them the possibility to interact through translation instead of being lost in it is the very least we can offer.

Translation is never only about words or just communication, it is about connection at the deepest humane level.


Superkilen in Nørrebro. Photo by Canan Marasligil. 

Pubis Ra(ê)ve(u)r

Walking on the most touristic waterfront of Copenhagen, I tumbled upon the word PUBIS tagged on a few different surfaces. As I saw this word rendered in bright yellow, it shone through my different linguistic layers before I could make up my mind about the language in which I had to interpret it. 

My first layer was in Frenchfollowed immediately by English. In both language, pubis has the same meaning: 

Either of a pair of bones forming the two sides of the pelvis.
From latin OS PUBIS, became PUBIS in the late 16th century. 

My other linguistic layers didn't get into motion, I jumped immediately into looking after the Danish word for pubis. If it were the same, I wasn't going to add this encounter to my City in Translation collection... After a simple google search, I discovered that skamben is the Danish word for pubis (thank you Wikipedia). 

When I took these pictures during my long walks across Copenhagen, I didn't realise the word raver was tagged under the first pubis (on the door). Only now, looking at the photograph as part of my reflecting on the many materials collected do I see it. 

My different linguistic layers get into motion, again. 





Zooming further, I realise there's a 2 next to raver.

[zooming in] 

or is it a question mark missing its dot? 

or is it a reversed "s"?


My linguistic layers get mixed into the process and I even forget about the definition of the word itself. I keep thinking of this pubis going to raves or dreaming, without really picturing the absurdity of it. I just see the words. Not their meaning. Just words that can move from one language into another inside my head. 

Then this came along: while I was trying to do some research online to find more information about the street artist responsible for PUBISing Nyhavn, I found a blog post about a book entitled Public Spaces, Public Life, Copenhagen from 1996.

[zooming in] this is a screenshot from the webpage: 

The obvious typo on the first sentence caught my attention. "Pubic Spaces", which I wouldn't have stumbled on if I was reading this in a different context. It's just a typo, a most obvious one. But linking it to my imaginary dreamy pubis going from rave to rave, seeing it from the perspective of this trace left on urban space and inside my linguistically confused head, I cannot stop trying to imagine what a pubic space may look like. And I wonder how this word "PUBIS" tagged on different places in the city affects people walking by, those with other languages inside their minds. And I keep wondering, would anyone else imagine a pubis rêveur in the middle of Nyhavn?

Tulips and Videotapes

Vesterbro in Copenhagen. Photo by Canan Marasligil. 

When I was a kid growing up in Brussels, when internet was non-existent and we had no çanak anten to capture the ever-growing collection of Turkish television channels, my parents used to go to Schaerbeek —a neighbourhood of Brussels where many Turkish immigrants lived, worked, opened shops (and still do)— to buy food, to get a delicious pide, and to rent movies. I was very little, but I do remember vaguely the size of a couple of those shops (there were a few). Even for my then short self, the place seemed rather small. Packed with video tapes - Betamax and VHS, and posters of old Turkish movies: Kemal Sunal comedies, and all the Yeşilçam melodramas and romantic comedies starring the stars of Turkish music and cinema such as arabesk king Orhan Gencebay, action movie star Cüneyt Arkın or the lovely romantic duo Gülşen Bubikoğlu-Tarık Akan

As I wandered the streets of gentrified Vesterbro ("the once-seedy Copenhagen neighbourhood" as the Guardian defines it), I stumbled on a flower shop which kept the sign PINAR VIDEO on its door.   

Pınar means spring or source in Turkish, it is also a female name. I could imagine a tiny Danish version of myself inside the shop 25 years ago, picking a Kemal Sunal movie with her parents. Instead of mixing Turkish with French while speaking, she would mix her parent's tongue with her perfect Danish. Going home, they would laugh with Sunal, they would cry with Gencebay, they would fall in love like Bubikoğlu and Akan. Until the following week, when they'd go back to the now flower shop, exchange a VHS to ease the gentle pain of homesickness.

An ongoing journey until the arrival of the çanak anten.  

It is certainly not gentrification's fault that PINAR VIDEO now sells flowers. But I most certainly am grateful the sign of that not so far away past is still visible today.    

You may also enjoy this post showing the trailer of a documentary by Cem Kaya Remake Remix Rip-Off about the copying and remake culture in popular Turkish filmmaking.

Next to the bridge

Walking towards the bridge, I see my reflection in a window. Of course, I look at it. Don't we all? (Don't you?) In the age of the selfie, one might also stop to capture one's possibly narcissistic self. Well, I stopped for the words in the window. Questions of narcissism notwithstanding, I am looking for languages other than Danish across Copenhagen.

Next to the bridge. Copenhagen. Photo by (and with) Canan Marasligil

Reading —Family isn't always blood— They mean friendship, and I have many friends. But I also have conflicted relations with my(blood)self, and with my family. —In a world where you can be anything— can I be anything, really? Anything else than myself? It's me in that reflection.

I must surround myself with people who will love me no matter what. I have my family for that —et tırnaktan ayrılmaz, you-can-not-separate-the-nail-from-the-flesh, literally, and we actually could, it would hurt like hell, but it is a possibility. "Blood is thicker than water" is the English equivalent, "blod er tykkere end vand" in Danish (that's what Google tells me, it also tells me there's a rap song with that title)— I get the blood part, but water? Do friendships tend to evaporate like water? The fleshy Turkish proverb is closer to the reality of these relationships, it seems to me. Flesh, blood, nails. Am I the nail or the flesh then? Does water and blood mix? Doesn't matter, love is supposed to bind it all.  

Reading —Happiness is not a destination— all caps. Seriously, —it is a way of life— all caps again. But doesn't a way lead to a destination? My typographic sensitivities do tend to make the link between the red "way" and "destination". Also, all caps. 

I am more confused than ever.

Next to the bridge. Copenhagen. Photo by Canan Marasligil

Reading —I have no idea what's going on— be bold and smile and shout it out. I smile all the time. Should I be worried?

I'm starting to get anxious about spending too much time in front of these windows. There's a bridge a few steps away. I could still ring the door of this psychotherapists' practice, but then, I think, in which language will I express myself? It's time to go, time to cross that bridge.

The only thing you can be sure of is death

Vester Voldgade, Copenhagen. Photo by Canan Marasligil. 

So you say. The only thing you can be sure of is death. 

Who are you? 

I see the transparence of your words. I see you hide behind that naked tree. It does remind me of death, yes. You're whispering to me. I hear you. I see you. You tried to remain invisible, to catch me off guard, but I was looking closely. 

Is it chalk you used? Or did you engrave your words into that wall? Did you know the tree would show up and steal your show? Did you know the tree would give meaning to your words? 

I know, you didn't mean to scare me. I'm not scared. I know we are all going to die. 

Is it fear you're expressing? Or are you just making a statement? Both are fine with me. I get you. I feel you. 

I wonder if you're still there. Google Street View seems to say you aren't.  

No matter what. I know you're not alone. The tree is embracing you every day as the sun caresses you. 

As for I, I am here now. And you too, stayed with me. 

It all started with a choc

Superkilen, Nørrebro, Copenhagen. Photo by Erinç Salor.

I flew to Copenhagen from Amsterdam on Friday 17 April 2015, to start a writer's residency at the University. I took all my languages, experiences and sensitivities to Copenhagen and there, I observed, learned, researched and gained even more experiences.

And emotions. I experienced lots of emotions. 

On my first day, I wandered through the city. Slowly. As I usually do in new places, I started collecting booklets, flyers, free newspapers and all sorts of promotion and advertising for artistic, cultural events. The Copenhagen Film Festival was on and the next day of my arrival, there was a screening of The Cut by Turkish-German filmmaker Fatih Akin. He's been a favorite filmmaker of mine for a longtime, ever since Gegen die Wand. I had been longing to see The Cut since its premiere at the Venice Film Festival. It was never released in Amsterdam. I felt so lucky to be able to catch it in Copenhagen, my new host city.

The film focuses on the story of a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. One of many acts in the history of my country of birth where its State and its people seem to prefer remaining amnesiac about. Or worse, deny. I've been reading and translating works from Turkish to French and English - including poetry - dealing with this subject, and the ways we deal with memory as societies have always fascinated me. As I entered the theatre inside the Danish Film Institute, I've been handed a voting slip. Little more than two hours later, I handed in a very generous vote leaving the theatre. And I walked back home.

It was my second night in Copenhagen. 

As I stepped on the street in front of the Danish Film Institute, I experienced a choc.

I can't seem to write the word choc in any other language than French. It seems to me that choc includes the suddenness and violence of an "emotion" more strongly than the English word shock. So in my head, when I think about this emotional shock, I feel it in French. This of course doesn't stop me from rendering it in English.

Around me, people were talking - some very loudly, many drunk, it was Saturday night - in Danish. I was so immersed into the film, in the landscapes of my native country, deep within its languages - some I know by heart, some I don't, and its very heavy and disturbing history, that I, for a moment, had forgotten where I was. 

The city itself, its architecture, the streets, the cyclists or the unusually chilly weather didn't create that choc. I live in Amsterdam, land of bicycles, historic buildings, crazy architecture and yes, chilly weather.

It's the sound, all the sounds of the Danish language swirling around me that created the choc. 

It took me a while to remember where I was. Why I was here.

That initial choc reminded how central the role of emotion was as part of my exploration. I was going to search for stories behind the different languages expressed throughout the city, mostly through text posted on surfaces - walls, windows, floors, cars, bridges, boats..., but also told - in conversations, in music, in sign language... Sometimes making the invisible visible through sound and gesture. 

While visual elements remained at the heart of my exploration, my initial choc has reminded me that languages can come in many different forms and that they can render a whole range of emotions, depending on who are receiving them. 

As I started to move out of my state of choc into the night, I realised how unavoidable my personal history and the various levels of emotions I could experience were going to be as I was commencing a new journey in an unknown place.

Navigating the city while allowing myself to bring my emotions to the centre of the exploration is the necessary step in enabling imagination.