Biennale of Sydney

Erkan Özgen

Erkan Özgen, Wonderland, 2016, single channel digital video, colour, sound, 3:54 mins. Courtesy the artist

Erkan Özgen

Born, Lives and Works: 1971 in Derik, Turkey
Lives and works in Diyarbakir, Turkey


In his work Erkan Özgen deals with the complex questions of war, violence and trauma. His work invites the viewer to reflect beyond the boundaries of the political, within the private and human dimension. In a time of a turbulent migration crisis that is redefining our political and social ecosystem, Özgen’s works give voice to a series of stories that are forgotten in the constant flow of information, or sometimes intentionally overshadowed. They are fragments that awaken feelings and fundamental questions.

By deciding not to show images of violence and war, Özgen gives a voice to individuals and objects. Witnessing becomes a way of understanding and a way of re-setting memory.

"I want to share experiences of the violence of war with everyone. I want people to know what war is. That is why I made Purple Muslin. I filmed it at the Ashti Camp in Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq. Purple Muslin is a video about Yazidi refugee women who suffered through 14 Islamic State (IS) attacks in the Sinjar region. Approximately 1.5 million Yazidi people live in this region. They aren’t Muslim, they have a different religion – —Yazidi. It’s unlike other religions such as Islam or Christianity, and IS attack the Yazidi because they want them to change their religion. But they won’t. They don’t want to.

"This is not the first genocide that they’ve suffered. On 3 August, 2014, IS attacked them again. They cannot protect themselves because they don’t have guns. IS kidnapped many women, and many people died. It was, and is, very horrible for them. I want to send a message to everyone about how the war has affected these women. I want people to hear their traumas. I want to show people reality, not fiction. I also want to give voice to this reality.

"In my work Wonderland I filmed Muhammed. I met him when I went to my mother’s town. My brother told me about 15fifteen refugees (seven of which were kids), who had fled the war. He had picked them up at the Turkish border, brought them to the city and given them some bread. I bought some clothes and went to see them. Amongst the kids, was Muhammed. He was mute and deaf.

"The following day he came to me. He wanted to talk to me and tell me his story. After our conversation, I decided to make a video. His father agreed and said he wanted other people to know about the situation. I went to his house and shot the video. The video was 40-minutes long and I spent a long time cutting and editing it. It’s a very strong story. Muhammed is from Kobani, but now lives in a refugee camp. Many people have seen the video, and the reality of war. It’s not propaganda. It is not TV. It is not social media. It is reality. He may not be able to speak, but his language is still very powerful.

"Muhammad has seen a lot. One part of the world is suffering huge tragedies and the other part doesn’t see or say anything. War is the immigrant. War is death.

"I want people to open their eyes!"

Exhibited Artwork

Erkan Özgen, Wonderland, 2016, single-channel digital video, colour, sound, 3:54 mins. Produced by the Han Nefkens Foundation. Courtesy the artist

Photograph: Installation view (2020) at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. Photograph: Zan Wimberley.

Location: Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

Erkan Özgen, Aesthetics of Weapons, 2018, single-channel digital video, colour, sound, 4:50 mins. Produced by the Han Nefkens Foundation. Courtesy the artist. Presentation at the 22nd Biennale of Sydney was made possible with assistance from NIRIN 500 patrons

Photograph: Erkan Özgen, Aesthetics of Weapons, 2018, installation view, 22nd Biennale of Sydney: NIRIN, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, 2020, single-channel digital video, colour, sound, image courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Art Austral

Location: Museum of Contemporary Art Australia