How did you become interested in the issue of the Texas/Mexico border?
Having grown up on a border as a member of the Kurdish minority in Turkey, I have often been drawn to the subject of geographical and political divides. Coming to Texas for the first time to be an artist-in-residence at Artpace, this interest became especially relevant because the border carries enormous historical and political weight, both here and in Central America. In some ways, of course, it recalls my personal identity, but the subject matter is universal—it’s not just a story about the U.S. and Mexico border. The divisiveness of borders is my story and it’s also the story of countless others—of lines drawn by one group to the detriment of others.
Why are the people depicted in your video work divided into groups of women and men?
The fact is, men and women generally have different approaches to crossing borders; they often travel separately, and have different journeys. Men tend to travel first and alone, and despite the threat of death or disappearance they try to “make it” past authorities and other obstacles. Women, on the other hand, often travel with children and upon reaching the border, call to be picked up by the border patrol. These women are then placed into family “detention centers” that are nearly indistinguishable from prisons. Women not only deal with the journey, but also with the threat of violence specific to being female. Gender politics are also present and should not be ignored. For these reasons I looked at men and women separately, but in a way in which they still converse with one another.
How did you create the necessary trust with the participants featured in your work?
I approached groups of people affected by border issues similar to my own experiences; I told them about myself, what I do, and why I wanted to work with them on this project. Their understanding of my personal history and where my interests are rooted certainly helped in convincing them to take part in the project. They wanted to be visible and say “a word” about their story because they know better than anyone else how important it is. I also think we were bound together by a mutual curiosity of what I might ask them to do and how they might respond.
What role does religious imagery play in your exhibition?
People in this part of the world are religious and many border crossers rely on religion and sometimes religious institutions for hope. So there are religious motifs in the work. But the journey itself isn’t a pilgrimage. The concerns of immigration are practical, not spiritual. People immigrate because their human rights are not being met; some leave because they are dying in their country.
How is the work you produced in the studio different than the videos?
The videos are a direct confrontation with affected people—their silence, and the landscape of death and hope. By contrast, the studio work is more symbolic. Many of the same concepts are being raised, but on a metaphorical level. I collected the clothes of border crossers along Texas’s southern border, divided them into many pieces, and stitched them together to create a quilt. To create the photographic image, I cut a fish into two pieces that are connected by a crude metal bar. These are symbols of division and connectedness, of memory, of contained freedom, and of pain.