Exploring Languages in Urban Spaces
City in Translation -  Yearning for Turkish. Photos by Canan Marasligil_2.jpg

Yearning for Turkish - exhibition

Yearning for Turkish

yearning for turkish

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 inexistent. Many of these words are awakened by my imagination, and find new life in translation.
— Canan Marasligil


City in Translation -  Yearning for Turkish. Photos by Canan Marasligil_12.jpg

There is a language I was born into
a language my mother, my father spoke to me in,
they still do
a language I use every day uniting with my many others
moving, I see it everywhere I go
a language I translate from.
When I walk in cities,
I see
I feel
I imagine

this language.
It is the language of my heart
that I yearn for, constantly.


City in Translation -  Yearning for Turkish. Photos by Canan Marasligil_2.jpg


Politik can be understood in many languages.

On this Copenhagen wall, it means "politics" in Danish, and it is equated to a sausage-shaped insult.

In Turkish, politik means "political".

In Turkish, politik is an adjective, not a noun.


City in Translation -  Yearning for Turkish. Photos by Canan Marasligil_18.jpg


In 1960, my father settled with his family in Germany, where he stayed until 1978. My paternal language is German, but I don't master it. No yet.

Dobro došli, Herzlich Wilkommen, hoşgeldiniz. In Turkish, you literally "come well": hoş (well or nice), geldiniz (you came). The German version includes Herzlich (heartily, warmly).

You can't be heartily welcome in Turkish, grammatically.

cumin & spaghetti

In 1980, my parents moved from Istanbul to Brussels, with me.

My father tells me he didn't want to raise me in Germany, "Their hatred of foreigners never ended, in those times, thoughts from the 1940s were still strong. After the Jews, it was the Spaghettifresser
and the Kümmeltürke".

He didn't want to be in a place where he could understand the language.

I was one year old when we migrated to Belgium. I grew up in Brussels. I left when I was 27 years old.

City in Translation -  Yearning for Turkish. Photos by Canan Marasligil_10.jpg

peaceful heim

I moved from Brussels to Amsterdam in December 2007. Most of my life, I lived in a city my parents had chosen, most of my adult life I spent in one of my own choosing.

When I first moved to Amsterdam, I visited the Amsterdam Museum, where I learned about "Kamp Atatürk": the barracks established for migrant shipyard workers in 1964. They accommodated up to 500 Turkish guest workers for over a decade.

"Foreigners would live in camp-like Heims" my father told me once about Germany, "6 beds in 10m2, 50m away from the factory, and now they're talking about integration".

Today, there is no camp left, only a white memorial wall on a sad crossroad, North of the IJ river, adorning two plaques in Turkish and in Dutch: one telling about the history of the place, and the other, quoting Atatürk's famous words "Peace at home, Peace abroad".

City in Translation -  Yearning for Turkish. Photos by Canan Marasligil_1.jpg


When I was a kid growing up in Brussels, we would go rent movies with my parents in the Turkish neighbourhood. Twenty-five years later, I wander the streets of gentrified Vesterbrø and I find myself surrounded with VHS and Betamax again. Only, the videos are now flowers, and the golden Pınar Video sign a trophy of gentrification.

Pınar means spring or source in Turkish, it is also a female name.

I imagine a tiny Danish version of myself inside the shop, picking a movie with her parents. Instead of mixing Turkish with French while speaking, she mixes her parent's tongue with her perfect Danish. Every week, they laugh, cry and fall in love at the pace of Turkish melodrama and comedy, easing the gentle pain of homesickness one VHS at a time.

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There is a mosque called Ayasofya in Amsterdam - just like the one in Istanbul. In Dutch, it is known as the Westermoskee because it is in the West part of the city.

It was designed by French architects Marc and Nada Breitman (the mosque, not the tote bag).

It is the largest mosque in the Netherlands.

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mod & meh

"Why is there suddenly so many Turkish barbers? I live in rural Scotland and every village has a Turkish barber."

"Exactly, right?! There's been a sudden explosion of them. They're usually excellent, if a little expensive, but have no idea what a Mod is. Unfortunately for me."

"My local Turkish barber is meh and not desperately expensive. I think I'll try a different one next time."

"Meh is a nice Turkish name."

"Yes boss... you want trim boss?"

"Turkish barbers are great, but they only really do one style. For anything fancy, you'll probably have to go elsewhere and suffer steep prices and inane chitchat."

(Reddit conversations)

City in Translation -  Yearning for Turkish. Photos by Canan Marasligil_8.jpg


It is 8PM. The words Allahu Ekber, Allahu Ekber resonate across the canals, throughout the streets of Amsterdam, more accustomed to the sounds of bike bells shouting at inattentive tourists.

As the call for prayer spreads throughout the beloved neighbourhood, cars, pedestrians and bicycles stop and listen to these words – alien to some, yet so familiar to others.

Standing on the pavement, looking at this former Church turned into a Turkish mosque, in the heart of a city where prostitution is legal and smoking pot is decriminalised, I think for one moment that we have found a common space where we can all exist and feel, together.


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Visual artist Gülsün Karamustafa came across this publication in a second hand bookstore in Istanbul: It is an adaptation of the French book Pour bien connaître les usages mondains, originally printed in Paris in French, in 1910. This Ottoman Turkish version was published after the declaration of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, but before the linguistic reform that will lead to the adoption of the Latin alphabet in 1928.

Karamustafa created an impressive installation entitled "Etiquette: (The Taming of the East)" based on this book.

A metaphor of today's Turkey? Trapped in time, in-between different moral values and discourses? Lost in translation? Incapable of reading its own past?

It is not easy to tame one's thoughts.

City in Translation -  Yearning for Turkish. Photos by Canan Marasligil_4.jpg


No one is the first to set foot on any soil
You're always borne by souls who passed before
Time was, gods and goddesses
were alive just like you
Their strengths and weaknesses flow through you
into the earth
trodden underfoot by the procession
of the mortal dead

Granted some of you are my history
yet not my geography
Geography is the name of those who occupy the land
and it takes heart to stay

I stayed in my geography with my dead
Yet you denied your very self
Turned official, emptied of truth

I stayed in my geography with my life
to write my own history

―Poem by Armenian-Turkish poet Karin Karakaşlı (translation from Turkish by Canan Marasligil and the Poetry Translation Workshop)


City in Translation -  Yearning for Turkish. Photos by Canan Marasligil_11.jpg

ach, turkei!

They say walls have ears,


they can even talk

in a multiplicity of languages.

City in Translation -  Yearning for Turkish. Photos by Canan Marasligil_7.jpg

good sport

çArşı is the best-known supporter group of the football team BJK (Beşiktaş JK) in Turkey.

During the Occupy Gezi movement in 2013, çArşı was a central mobilising force for anti-Erdoğan protests.

Germany is home to the largest Turkish diaspora. Many European-Turkish citizens support Erdoğan. Some don't.

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the future is female, then

In 1978, photographer Bertien van Manen, who was capturing the lives of female immigrant workers, photographed the first ever strike of Turkish women in the Netherlands at a chicken factory in Almelo. The women had to work 80 hours per week, were severely underpaid and underwent serious physical pain because they had to process the sizzling hot chicken meat with their bare hands.

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transposition, bis

On 15 July 2016, a military coup attempt took place in Turkey. Since then, the country has been under a state of emergency. Hundreds of journalists and academics have been imprisoned. Thousands of civil servants have lost their jobs.

This is a motorcycle ad, and it isn't in Turkish. I just happened to walk in front of it six weeks after the coup attempt.

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the future is female, now

Hayır means "No" in Turkish.

It is also the current campaign inviting Turkish citizens to vote #HAYIR during the 16 April 2017 referendum for the Constitutional amendment that will turn the system in Turkey into an executive presidency.

In other words: more power to the president.

In more accurate words: dictatorship.

The words on this woman's vest say Diktatörlüğe HAYIR!

"No to dictatorship!"


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"We are good people; we don't have an architect in the family."

I'm strolling on the Marolles's cobblestone streets, looking at windows as I walk by, and stories stare back at me through my reflection.

The nuns of Maria Colentes - aka Marikollen - used to care for the lepers exiled here, together with the criminals. In the centuries following the Middle Ages, The Marolles became a working class neighbourhood - a whole section of which was demolished in the 19th century for the building of the Palace of Justice. W.G. Sebald describes its "singular architectural monstrosity" in his novel Austerlitz.

Around 1880, the word "architek" emerged as an insult, used by the local population to mock the architect of the Palace of Justice: Joseph Poelaert.

There are lots of good people in The Marolles, and some of them already seem to be better architects.



Sadık was my maternal grandfather's name.

My maternal great-grandmother emigrated to Germany, my paternal grandparents too. My maternal grandparents are the only generation in my family that skipped emigration.

Sadık means "loyal", "faithful" in Turkish.


Mülk in Turkish means "possession". It can also be defined as "domain", "estate", "property", "asset". It was a type of land tenure under the Ottoman Empire.

A word I hardly ever use.

Yet, it is the Turkish "mülk" that I encounter on my walk to the airport.

The graffiti is most probably not there anymore, but this street artist’s name is now embedded in my imagination as a Turkish word.


I am in a bus that left London five hours ago. It is late, and I am sleepy and nauseous. As we ride across a forest, I see the words ARAF and SLOW appearing and disappearing under the vehicle’s nervous headlights. I start wondering if I am dreaming or if my nausea is playing tricks on me. I blink, once, twice, thrice...

You see, araf in Turkish means "purgatory".

common language

City in Translation -  Yearning for Turkish. Photos by Canan Marasligil_13.jpg

not all who wander are lost

It was the first time I had been to Athens. As I was wandering the streets, I came across a shop called Flâneur. Almost a personal invitation to enter. The owner Giannis welcomed me, warmly. All around were locally hand-made works. Each of them with a story. As we talked about travelling and our cities, I told Giannis I was born in Turkey. "My grandfather is from Kayseri, " he said. His uncle found the family home back in Turkey ten years ago. He added that he would like to go someday. His grandmother was from Antalya. They met in Greece, at that time, refugees would stick together – they had no other choice, he added. We talked about the relationship between Greece and Turkey, about our common history. Then Giannis said he was very sad about what is happening in Turkey, "I hope things will get better". Me too. "And I hope better days will come to Greece as well." "We are so close to one another, aren’t we" said Giannis. "Yes," I nodded, "we are very close." Closer than we ever think.

about Yearning for Turkish

The works in the Yearning for Turkish exhibition have been created in the frame of Canan Marasligil's ongoing City in Translation exploration, and exhibited as part of the TransArtation! project, from 31 March to 8 April 2017 at The Byre Theatre in St Andrews, and from 12 April to 7 May 2017 at The Shoe Factory Social Club in Norwich.

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.

Thank you

Special thanks to Manuela Perteghella, Eugenia Loffredo and Anna Milsom for giving me the opportunity to exhibit these works as part of the Transartlation! project. 

TransARTation! is a touring exhibition that opens up a space for artists, poets, and local communities to explore ideas about translation, movement, migration and art in a variety of ways, including workshops, artists’ talks, interactive installations and multimedia art.

The aims of the exhibition and workshops is to foster community involvement in investigating how translation stimulates and provokes the production of text-objects and works of visual art, and to make visible the kinds of conversations that can occur between different cultures, languages and modes of expression.