Beyond violence, war and politics, there are people who suffer, lives destroyed and incurable traumas. Turkish artist Erkan Özgen give a voice to these silenced stories in an exhibition at the Tàpies Foundation, produced in collaboration with the Han Nefkens Foundation.

In a situation like the present, where public institutions demonstrate their incapacity and limitations in fulfilling the expectations and demands of artists, especially as far as the production and diffusion of their work is concerned, the role of the patron has become particularly important.

Erkan Özgen at the opening of the exhibition.

Since Han Nefkens decided to establish his foundation in Barcelona in 2009, his efforts in supporting creative work has been constant and has resulted in collaborations with some of the main local institutions. Now, together with the Tàpies Foundation, it has produced, Giving Voices: Erkan Özgen, the first solo exhibition in Spain of this Turkish artist, who has become known for his empathetic and respectful approach to the lives of the common people, which often occupy no more than a footnote in hegemonic histories.


The fact is that Özgen knows what he is talking about. He does not live in Paris or New York, but in Diyarbakır on the banks of the River Tigris and the capital of the Kurds in Turkey. Despite being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site it has not escaped Turkish attacks which reduced to ruins a large part of the walled city, or the violence of ISIS and the ravages of the Syrian exodus.

This pain is concentrated in Purple Muslin, one of two works produced by Nefkens which were first shown in Manifesta 12, giving voice to the weakest of the weak – the Yazidi women living in the Ashty refugee camps in northern Iraq. This pre-Islamic ethnic group, which professes one of the most ancient religions in the world, has for centuries been suffering the persecutions which reached a peak with the genocide perpetrated by ISIS.

Erkan Özgen, Purple Muslin.

The video is an example of how Özgen re-routes the political and religious conflicts of the global scenarios to a more intimate, private and, above all, human dimension. “Özgen rescues the stories that are silenced, either by chance or intentionally, by the flow of information and uses their testimony as a system for rebooting memory”, explains Hilde Teerlinck, director of the Nefkens Foundation and curator of this exhibition.


This Dutch patron and collector, who is always seeking new talents that need a push in order to be discovered, came across the work of Özgen at the last Istanbul Biennale where he presented Wonderland  — an exploration of the trauma of war as told by Muhammed, a deaf-mute boy. Seeing how he describes his experience using his whole body and an expressivity that leaves no space for sterile compassion, can leave nobody cold.


This is probably the most shocking of the four works that are shown in the Tàpies Foundation and a terribly perfect counterpoint to the Aesthetic of Weapons, in which an active police officer reveals the love he has for his weapon. This is completely chilling! Without showing a single image of violence, Özgen manages to ensure that everyone leaves the exhibition moved or angered but hating violence a bit more.

The exhibition Erkan Özgen. Giving voices can be visited at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies, in Barcelona, until February 24, 2019.