ESR 6 Blog January 2022: Bilge Hasdemir

At the time of this blog post, the fifth hearing of the artist Izinsiz´s case was held at the Istanbul 20th Criminal Court of First Instance, and the sixth hearing is scheduled for May.

The artist-activist working under the pseudonym Izinsiz makes public interventions best known for his critique of present social and political conditions.  But Izinsiz has been on trial for “publicly denigrating the national flag” and “insulting the President” because of the mural intervention he made in 2020 on the painting `Istanbul´ by the artist Devrim Erbil which was displayed on a billboard in a construction site in Istanbul. The intervention was about increase in suicide rates due to deepening poverty in society and the financial difficulties which was also on the agenda of the news media at that time.

Police officers are investigating the crime scene, Istanbul. Image source: Twitter,@mlsaturkey.

Pro-government media outlets reported Izinsiz´s intervention, in which the artist drew a human silhouette hanging on a crescent and star on the painting of Devrim Erbil, as “a strange provocation”. Izinsiz was then arrested and held in prison for a while like other thousands of individuals who are currently being accused of insulting public officials, only because of opinions they have expressed and criticism they have voiced. As it was presented in the report Turkey: Freedom of Expression in Jeopardy, written by jurists Yaman Akdeniz and Kerem Altıparmak working in the fields of human rights, “Turkey is going through a period in which anyone thought to be in the opposition, including but not limited to academics, members of parliament, artists, journalists and writers, can be investigated, arrested and prosecuted for disseminating terrorist propaganda or for being a member of a terrorist organisation”  (Akdeniz & Altiparmak, 2018: 5)[1].

At the fourth hearing of Izinsiz´s case held on October 14th, the court decided to send the file to an expert panel consisting of three lecturers working at the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University (MSGU) which is the one of the leading institutions in the field of art education in Turkey. However, Mimar Sinan University turned down the court’s appointment with the written justification saying that “there is no one to act as an expert”. But then by showing an untimely interest in four of Izinsiz´s artworks, as publicly told by the artist himself shortly after the last trial, the university gave the impression of making up for the institution´s attitude throughout the litigation process. Upon the negative response from the arts university, the court one more time decided to postpone the trial to establish a committee of three ex officio to determine whether the work has artistic value or not.

Given the difficulty of defining art and artistic value, there is lack of clarity about what measurement criteria is going to be used to evaluate the artistic value. And the future of Izinsiz´s case is yet uncertain.

[1] Akdeniz, Yaman & Altiparmak, Kerem. (2018). Turkey: Freedom of Expression in Jeopardy: Violations of the rights of authors, publishers and academics under the State of Emergency. DOI:10.13140/RG.2.2.21017.72808

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