Erkan Özgen Interview: When Language is Not Enough


Turkish artist Erkan Özgen wants to create an awareness of the havoc that war wreaks upon human beings. Watch him talk about his commanding and heartrending video work ‘Wonderland’ (2016), in which a deaf and mute child uses his body language to explain the brutal events that transpired when he and his family fled the war in Syria.

Özgen first met thirteen-year-old Muhammed in Diyarbakir in Turkey, when he was helping a children’s organization hand out winter clothes for refugee children. The deaf and mute boy told him about his experiences when he and his family fled a small town in northern Syria due to the attack of Islamic State forces: “Something that none of us wants to see or go through ourselves.” Özgen became deeply affected and wanted to spread the message of this atrocity to people through his art: “This is art to me, and as an artist, I can reach out to consumers of art.” With permission from Muhammed’s father, Özgen then recorded a video, aiming not to produce a documentary, but to “show the people of the world what war looks like in its naked brutality, to show the havoc wrought by war, all through the accounts of this boy.” Muhammed tells his story through gesticulations, which Özgen finds is much more powerful than the inadequateness of language: “Therefore, Muhammed with his unhearing ear and his unspeaking tongue should recount all that he had seen to the rest of us, who also cannot see or hear it. All the true horrors of war in their naked brutality.” In connection to this, Özgen considers Muhammed a metaphor for “our collective conscience,” as well as the voice of “everyone how has lost their home, and everyone who has been forced to abandon their home. He is their rebellion, their battle cry, their most important message to the world.”

Erkan Özgen (b. 1971) is a Kurdish-born Turkish artist. He primarily works with video, photography and installation, and a large part of his video works address migration, war and human rights, giving a voice to individuals. Özgen made his debut into the Turkish art scene in 1998 and has since then participated in exhibitions worldwide including at Tate Modern in London, Fundació Antoni Tápies in Barcelona, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk and at the 5th Istanbul Biennial (2017).

Erkan Özgen was interviewed by Kasper Bech Dyg at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark in June 2019 in connection with the exhibition ‘Homeless Souls’. In the video, Özgen talks about video work ‘Wonderland’ (2016).

Camera: Rasmus Quistgaard

Produced and edited by: Kasper Bech Dyg

Cover photo: From ‘Wonderland’ (2016) by Erkan Özgen

Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2019

Supported by Nordea-fonden

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