When the secular movement banned the public use of the hijab, life changed for Turkish women. This exhibition shows their perspective.
An art exhibition entitled ‘Boyle Daha Guzelsin,’ or ‘You’re prettier this way’, opened to public today, marking the 23rd anniversary of Turkey’s quasi-military coup of 1997.
Organised by the Women and Democracy Association (KADEM), the exhibition reflects the pain suffered by a religiously-minded Turkish majority before and after the ‘post-modern’ coup of religious, political oppression.
During 1980s ‘political Islam’ was named as the new enemy in Turkey when the Islamic Welfare Party won majority vote. This was worrisome for secularist circles. The reformist and revolutionary circles intervened via army generals- Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) forced the elected government to resign under the guise of protecting Kemalism and secularism. The quasi-military coup of 1997 banned the pro-Islamist Welfare and Virtue Parties and imposed severe restrictions on the headscarf, viewing it as a political Islamist symbol.
The hijab ban, one of the most controversial issues in Turkish politics, influenced the lives of millions of women, eliminating them from the public sphere including employment, education and the services sector. Hijabi women were discriminated against and if they were to participate in the public sphere, they were to remove their headscarves first.
Merve Kavakci, a hijabi politician, has been an icon for her stance on the headscarf controversy. Despite being elected as an Istanbul deputy for the Virtue Party (FP) in 1999, Kavakci was debarred from taking her oath in parliament as secularist opponents made a chaotic scene merely because she was wearing a headscarf.
Restrictions on headscarves at universities forced female students to make a choice: either to remove it or drop out of higher education. There were “convincing rooms” if we may say, very much like interrogation rooms, where female students would end up during their registrations to universities. University staff would talk to girls to persuade them to take off their headscarves. “You’re prettier this way” (Boyle Daha Guzelsin) was a common expression of solace the students would receive as they were being stripped of a part of their identities and needed to comfort.
This expression of persuasion rooms is never forgotten and turned into a cliche as a system of tutelage, penetrating into private lives and dictating personal choices. The Boyle Daha Guzelsin exhibition offers a panoramic view of the era with 18 artworks from 16 artists presenting their own narrative of how the power structures of that time prevailed upon young girls - no older than 17 years old - to remove their headscarves to abide by the secularist principles.
Yasemin Darbaz, the curator of the exhibition says there is a difference between ‘you’re pretty this way’ and ‘you’re prettier this way’, as the latter implies a specific perception that the observer himself finds you prettier in the way he formulates your appearance.
Speaking to TRT World, Darbaz said “Although our theme revolves around Feb. 28 coup, we preferred to tell our stories indirectly. We used metaphors rather than exposing the political issues and agenda of that time. We distanced ourselves from the well-known infographics. Here, we just want to highlight ‘what’s left behind’ and give our audience ‘the feelings of these women’. Our artists turned the scars of Feb. 28 coup into works of art and told their stories independent of each other in a unique way but all referring to that period of time.”
Malkoc says the number 7 is sacred in Hinduism, Islam and Judaism but they purposely used 6 layers leaving the last panel to the observer. “If you form your own panel from the front, you see various types of hands trying to reach, grasp, touch, hold, poke the woman or some others trying to protect, defend, safeguard her. We wanted this piece to be viewable from 360 degrees so that when you walk with me you see the hand and feel the emotion at every layer- indeed the reality is each hand/person having their own internal struggles. Then when you reach the opposite side, you will meet the woman who left everything behind. A glorious woman that none of the hands were able to reach.”
The exhibition will be open free of charge to all visitors until March 28 at Darphane-i Amire , Topkapı Palace.
[NOTE: The article came from TRT World’s Eyes on Discrimination (EOD) Centre, which monitors and reports on offences, hate crimes and discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, national origin and religion, or other related social categories. We promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.]