By Pınar Kazak
For many queer people in Turkey, cultural folk tradition has become a topic to avoid. However, looking more closely at Turkish traditions reveals a different story to the one being painted in the mainstream.
Shahmaran is the divine feminine goddess of the Middle East present across Persian, Kurdish and Turkish cultures. She is the shapeshifter, mother nature and the protector. Her non-binary qualities, dignified story and powerful nature makes her a symbol of hope for the Turkish LGBT community. Shahmaran is the standing proof against what many modern societies consider oxymorons: queer folklore and queer Muslims.
For the hybrid-media installation, Shahmaran, Pınar Kazak dissects the digital records of her online media consumption from various services and platforms, extracting and juxtaposing diverse fragments of Turkish LGBT expression in a layered pastiche of contemporary queer folklore.
On January 2021, the president of Turkey declared members of the LGBT club in Boğaziçi University terrorists, which sparked up controversy online. It was the first time that the government of Turkey had acknowledged the existence of queer people, a now that they were recognised, they were targeted. As public demonstrations and protests ensued, the struggle between existing and unexisting was talked about in the queer communities of Istanbul.
As a queer identifying person, these led me to wonder about this as well. One image that resurfaced on social media intrigued me, that was a miniature (a traditional Ottoman painting form) depicting homosexual sex. Even though I knew about this miniature from before, it was interesting to me how and why it resurfaced from people in my circle, as a reminder, and a call to public memory. Pointing out the discrepancies behind the claim that "LGBT culture is against the traditional Turkish values".
My research led me to find many more instances in traditional Turkish culture where queerness was documented. Even though as a queer identifying person myself, I was convinced that my tradition did not allow such behaviour or identity, this was not the case.
In this case, the social media trash that I was collecting, through my social media mutuals' posts, my stories that I did not think much about, were serving a collective memory. They were a record of the struggles of queer identity in the modern society of Turkey, much like the Ottoman miniatures which were records of queer behaviour in the past.
At this point, the focus of my research was the question of "How is Turkish queer identity is expressed, in traditional Turkish culture, and the modern Turkish culture?". I started looking through social media, reading more about the history of miniature painting as a form of archiving and recording, and reading more about queer history in Turkey.
 Görkemli S (2011) Gender Benders, Gay Icons and Media: Lesbian and Gay Visual Rhetoric in Turkey. Available from https://www.berfrois.com/2011/11/turkish-queer-icons/ (Accessed 24 Feb 2021).
 Bayramoğlu Y (2018) Erdoğan's Queer Moment. Commentary, Gender, Sexuality and Power. Available from https://www.aljumhuriya.net/en/content/erdogan’s-queer-moment (Accessed 1 Mar 2021).
 Görkemli S (2014) Grassroots Literacies: Lesbian and Gay Activism and the Internet in Turkey. SUNY Press.
Erdogan's queer moment
Editor's note: This article is part of Al-Jumhuriya's "Gender, Sexuality, and Power" series. It was also published in Arabic on 22 November, 2018.] There is an astonishing picture of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the president of Turkey, and Bülent Ersoy, a famous trans singer, having dinner together.
Turkish Queer Icons
In 2007, Kaos GL, a bimonthly publication of the Kaos Gay and Lesbian Cultural Research and Solidarity Association in Ankara, Turkey, devoted its November/December issue to "Turkiye'nin Gay Ikonlari" (Turkey's Gay Icons). The magazine surveyed readers and published a list of the ten most popular gay icons in Turkey.
In order to answer the question "How is queer identity expressed in the modern Turkish society?", I turned to social media. According to Serkan Görkemli on his book Grassroots Literacies: Lesbian and Gay Activism and the Internet in Turkey, the accessibility the internet provided in late 1990's to now, played a big role in creating safe queer spaces in Turkey, and resulted in the expression of queerness. As a ways of understanding this on a personal level, I looked into my own personal data mostly from Twitter and Instagram, also including data from Youtube (Google) and Spotify.
The data I worked with was a mix media and text. While I was going through the data manually, I was asking myself the question of 'What is queer culture?' and 'What is queer (online) expression?'. The data I extracted was an active response to this question.
The media data (from Instagram, Twitter and Youtube) was selected manually, with this question in mind. As the data from Spotify consisted of a .json file, it was processed through a NodeJS script, to search for specific artists (queer icons), and grouped according to song and their total streaming duration.
Prototypes & Experiments
Exploring the idea that social media can be used to document events that serve the public memory, especially in times of ideological change, I wanted to create miniatures of my own, inspired by the traditional Ottoman technique, and bring it to the contemporary discourse. I wanted to document the happenings of modern Turkish queer culture, in the style of Ottoman miniatures, in order to serve public memory, in an opposition to queer erasure.
The scenes depicted, as well as the photos used were all taken from social media, and merged together to create a narrative that tells of the specific event.
This part of my work explored the question of "What is Turkish queer culture?"
In order to explore the question of "What is Turkish queer expression?" I looked to my personal experience and data. While going through my data, I realised that the expression resulted from the struggle between existing and unexisting. In order to deal with this struggle, as many Turkish queer people do, I resorted to humour. Using a split screen composition, the "queer data" that was personal to me was laid out, representing the unexisting (the political erasure of queerness) and the existing (humorous expression of queerness). The tempo of the video, reinforces the chaos between the two states. Whether if it is the political stance that chooses to validate or invalidate the existence of queerness inconsistently, or the fears of the queer people that do not know where they stand in the eyes of the state and of society.