German Artist, filmmaker and writer Hito Steyerl spoke with Savas Boyraz about his recent work “Back Drop” at Open Source Gallery. Steyerl’s teenage friend Andrea Wolf, who became a martyr of the Kurdish liberation movement when killed in Çatak, Turkey in 1998, serves as a driving force in her recent work. Steyerl’s visits to Kurdistan and to the site of Andrea Wolf’s murder have brought Steyerl in contact with the current humanitarian crisis in kurdish regions and also closer to Savas Boyraz. Savas Boyraz is a kurdish artist, who views his work as “image-based activism” that he uses to explore the struggle of the Kurdish community in the Middle East, as well as his own roots. While travelling through Syria and Iraq, they had the following conversation:
Hito Steyerl: How did the idea arise to make this work?
Savas Boyraz: As a Kurdish artist, I always wanted to make a work with the Kurdish guerrilla fighters. This was not very easy, considering the conditions. However, back in March 2013, as a part of peace talks between Turkish state and the PKK, their leader announced a cease-fire towards Turkish state and summoned the PKK fighters to withdraw outside Turkish borders towards their bases in the North of Iraq. And in the same announcement, he was pointing a direction for the peace talks; “if the peace process advances as desired, this will bring an end to the armed struggle.”
When I read this, I decided to hurry up and make a work with the guerrillas before they transform into something else. Initially, it was a portrait photography project. But then, it evolved into an experimental fiction film through which the uncertainty of the political climate of the peace process is revealed.
Basically, the peace process, which no longer exists, triggered the idea of making a series of works about the Kurdish guerrilla movement.
HS: But how and under which conditions was the film “Meanwhile” made?
SB: Initially, the conditions were relatively better. There were no ongoing clashes between Turkish military and the guerrillas. There was tension, and uncertainty, and of course a certain level of risk. For example, during the filming “meanwhile” there were several military drones hovering above us; US, Israeli, Iranian and Turkish drones. This has prevented us from moving freely.
HS: And what about “The Triptych” ?
SB: The third part of the work, “The Triptych” occurred in a more relaxed fashion throughout 2013, 2014 and 2015. I decided to link the guerrilla movie “meanwhile” to the city life, to our daily lives. It was then when I decided to make a video portrait of an ex-guerrilla in New York.
HS: And how does your recent work relate to your earlier work around Roboski?
SB: Thematically both “invisible landscapes” and the recent works about the guerrillas can easily be linked to each other. “Invisible Landscapes” is about the borders that divide the Kurdish land into 4 pieces. It brings a historical perspective to a contemporary situation. The recent works around the guerrillas brings a more contemporary perspective to the situation. At the turmoil of the recent political developments in the middle east, where the borders of the nation states are falling apart, I wanted to lift the curtain and look behind it, to reveal the ones who are actually driving these changes on the ground. One more thing to say; during the photography process of the border work, I also wanted to photograph the guerrillas, as they control most territories along these borders. But it was not possible back then. This way, at least the guerrilla portraits can be seen as part of the “invisible landscapes” photo work.
On the other hand, on a formal level, both works started as photo projects and evolved into video works with several layers. I intentionally try to bring still photography and moving image into each other, and try to find ways of intertwining them. As a visual artist educated to be a still photographer, I do not believe in still photography and always try to push it forward into a somewhat hybrid form that employs moving image and sound in it. This effort is visible in both works. However there is certainly more of moving image than photography in the later works.
HS: How are the protagonists of your new work doing now?
SB: I know one of them, Evin, is still studying her MA on political science in Europe. We are working on a new piece with her.
But I don’t know about “Simko” (third part of ‘the triptych’) and the actors/guerrillas in “meanwhile”. Simko went to Iraq to join the fights against the IS back in February 2015. Since then, I haven’t heard from him. Also the whole cast of “meanwhile” is out of reach and the areas where we filmed the work, Kandil territory in North of Iraq, is under constant airstrikes by the Turkish army since July 2015. I hope the situation gets better soon and I can go and show the finished work to them.
HS: There is one more question I am really interested in. Where did you find the backdrop, what was it used for?
SB: The story of the backdrop is interesting. During our first trip to the guerrilla camps, we were hosted by their Culture group, where they have theater actors, musicians and filmmakers. When I started taking the portrait photos, I decided to use a backdrop but I was not prepared, I did not have one with me. So I asked them if there was a piece of cloth that I can use. They told me that the theater group might have something useful at their previous camp site, which was a couple of hours away. We went there and found a big metal barrel buried in the ground to stash some of their theater props and accessories. This particular backdrop was used on stage for some of their performances. I still have it and eventually will give it back to them.
Courtesy of Open Source Gallery