ISSUE 3: CREATIVE RESISTANCE | NOVEMBER 2022 | YASEMİN ÖZCAN | Adventures of whole wheat and white flour

Adventures of whole wheat and white flour

As the inequalities widen the gaps, the art world continues to ponder and produce on issues of human rights, feminism, and injustices. Yet, seeing begins from the one closest to you.

Yasemin Özcan, Food, Love, Justice, 2022, Bread made with a mixture of white flour and whole wheat || Photo: İstisnai İşler || Courtesy of Yasemin Özcan

After it became a hit in 1976, ABBA sang and had us all sing that famous song for years. Across the land of Turkey, where the average level of English proficiency is low, those who spoke the language as well as those who did not merrily accompanied this song:

Money, Money, Money ♫

Sure, the chorus was easy enough. And probably also because it was about money, the lower-class did not or could not say, ‘But this is in English, I wouldn’t know!’. They identified with it and sang along at the top of their lungs.

Such was the power of art: unifying, sometimes, also that which is classified, separated, disassociated.

You know, when it comes to the issue of class, it is no easy feat to talk about the elephant in the room earnestly and actually doing it justice. The world of arts, with its elephant and room both ostentatious in their own rights, is not exempt from this either. Vulnerabilities, class wounds, guilt trips both felt and imposed, manipulations, and envy in its rawest state are obstacles to talking about it serenely/sensibly.

If we were to salute Virginia Woolf: The entire struggle, for the working-class, or anyone for that matter, is about a room of one’s own, or everyone has their own elephant to contend with. It is difficult to separate the meaning and the verse, the elephant and the act from one another.

What are we separating from what anyways? The words class in English and classe in French are etymologically derived from the Latin word classis which means ‘division’, how then can we unite by talking about the differences that divide us the moment we begin to talk?

If we first shake our mind and then air it like a room, can we broach the ‘issue of class in the art world’ which is ignored because it is not easy to talk about?

Look, even the writer is yet to broach the subject!

Envy is an emotion as old as the history of humanity itself. Remember when we were children they used to say, ‘No-no! That’s your sibling, you shouldn’t be jealous of your sibling!’ (Thankfully these days I assume it is easier for those who can access new pedagogical approaches.) The envy that is modified by those who have difficulty confronting it: ‘No way, it can’t be “envy”. Let’s say, “admiration” please!’ (for they cannot bring themselves to say ‘jealousy’.)  

If it were the old days, we could have begun by asking, ‘Do we look at what we have or what we lack in our life? What sort of stories do we write when we feel we are the heroines of the life we are born into?’ And then gone on to say, ‘No class has it easy!’

But the pandemic happened!

For the lower-class, it is a perpetual car accident. A dark accident where neither the damage nor the end of the road is seen, and the expert will never come to the scene of incident for the person has no insurance or security. The airbag did not deploy, if she says ‘Help!’, the jig will be up. She has to think before asking for help.[1] Echoing the days-long power outage in the city of Isparta,[2] a dark and long accident that lays siege to the anxiety-ridden world of the lower-class artists waned in numbers…

Yet accident is something that comes out of nowhere and is over and done with instantly, is it not? Those who say, ‘Now the writer has overdone it!’, please raise your hands. Yes, I exaggerated a little so that we can contemplate the rest together. Since I cannot see your raised hands, come, let us carry on as merrily as possible, or like the line in that most-watched television series, ‘Let’s not allow things to take our shine off, Mr. Ali Rıza!’[3] When we tend towards the latter popular line, let us bear in mind that our shine will in fact never be unspoiled. Whether we see it or not, the lower-class will exist. Not much will change just because we are talking about it or because we have noticed the issue.

Light will be thrown upon certain things that remain in the dark within the field of art only when we reassess our priorities and the system of art which we are part of, which we bring into existence and sustain. Then will come the balmy comfort of the autofocusing camera lens or the glasses that we clean and put back on…

Education is a must

Ayşe is a 42-year-old visual artist. It’s not like she did not take classes on home economics at her girls’ vocational high school, she did; but the economy that she thought she studied does not suffice to explain the dynamics of the art world, and nor does the education she received help her stand on her own feet. With classes where they suggest cooking kadınbudu köfte[4] with leftover rice, the economy of what are we talking about? She smiles to herself thinking, ‘Perhaps I should enrol in economics this year in open university. Then I could use the student discount on public transport.’

And honesty… to some degree

Selin is 38 years old; every chance she gets, relevant or not, she mentions that she grew up in the poorest neighbourhood of the city. There is no end to her sentences that begin with poverty. If you run into her at exhibition openings that can afford receptions, you cannot enjoy your glass of Prosecco for she always brings the conversation back to poverty. In her petit bourgeoise life that she leads with her lover, she can only afford to drink Black Ivory coffee. She does not invite everyone over since their newly purchased triple door Gaggenau refrigerator would contradict with her story.

With epilation-without epilation

Amhairgin comes from a working-class family in Ireland, coming to be the heroine of her own life she has become an artist. Years later, when she hears that the father of her upper-class friend did not want his daughter to study arts, she realises that her own lower-class family did not object to her studying arts because they had nothing lose. Amhairgin’s artist friend says, ‘The cost of my education is high, if I get to sell my works my father would consider me a success.’

To make a living while continuing her art practice, Amhairgin gives portfolio preparation lessons to young students who will apply to art schools. Families who do not have to worry about getting or paying back loans for their children to study art at Central Saint Martins in London send their kids to her for private lessons. Looking at her students, Amhairgin summarises class difference in a single sentence: By the age of 18, they are done with epilation, have received their driver’s licence, travelled around the world, can speak 3-4 languages fluently, and play at least one musical instrument. The well-equipped children of this world are ready for life.


Like everyone else in his class at the state school, Hakan is having a difficult time with English, because after having no language lessons the first two years they started learning it from a 3rd grade textbook. At home, when he reads something in English, his mother who does not speak English makes fun of his accent. Now then, by learning a language is he to distance himself from his family members who do not even have a passport? Hakan’s father says, ‘Fine arts bled us dry. While people in other universities were buying a single book and reading that the whole year, you were buying a Canson paper and finishing it in a heartbeat!’

24 inches, the better to see you with!

Two artists are having coffee, Gülşen at editing says, ‘I could not buy a large monitor.’ Murat, who is well-off, says, ‘Neither could I!’ There is a funny but unlaughable silence, the dialogue ends. Why on earth is there a path extending from my ‘inability to buy’ to yours? Should we not talk about things where the topic comes around to budgets at all? Why doesn’t this conversation flow naturally, as in ‘I could not get a haircut?’ The winner of the poverty contest, entered by not being able to say, ‘Oh dear!’ and move on, is the distance that comes with the pang of guilt.

Yasemin Özcan, Food, Love, Justice, work in process, 2022 || Courtesy of the artist

Yasemin Özcan, Food, Love, Justice, work in process, 2022 || Courtesy of the artist

Yasemin Özcan, Food, Love, Justice, work in process, 2022 || Courtesy of the artist

Yasemin Özcan, Food, Love, Justice, work in process, 2022 || Courtesy of the artist

Our art world is silently divided in two as in those who speak English and those who do not

Everything is like the sign of Scorpio: all or none, it is either always or never experienced. There is a silent struggle that continues for generations, the struggle of those who take various courses as their works get sold; or throw in the towel now and then say, ‘Enough is enough! I just can’t learn it’; or live at peace with their broken English saying, ‘I’m studying at home!’; or give painting lessons in exchange for private English lessons; or say, ‘I will take out a loan, go to a language school, and solve this for once and all.’ You making sentences that start with ‘Mr. and Mrs. Brown went to the…’ always heartens your friend in her late 30s, who went into depression because she is in the same class with high school kids at her language school in London.

Therefore, the works on speaking English produced by Jakup Ferri and Mladen Stilinović, whom Ferri pays homage to, receive lifetime honorary awards in our hearts.

Mladen Stilinović’s work engraved on pink cloth and titled An Artist Who Cannot Speak English Is No Artist is dated 1992.

We had the opportunity to watch Jakup Ferri at the 9th Istanbul Biennial; in his video with the same title, An Artist Who Cannot Speak English Is No Artist, Ferri inanely utters a string of words in English with great faith. The video, which is impossible to watch without a smile, presents an ironical and refined summary of the situation.

English that mutes its non-speakers in the local art milieu

Before the pandemic, on the way to a speech held at an art institution, we came across a young, hardworking curator. She says, ‘Now, I’ll go there and again not understand a thing. I changed my mind, I’m not coming, I’m going back!’ I still remember the talks that were not translated because it was assumed that everyone spoke English; and the artist who left a Redhouse English-Turkish Dictionary on the speakers’ table because there was no translation available; and yet another artist who was not invited to the talk (due to lack of budget and translation) because his English was not good.

I also remember the solutions found when people saw the need and put their minds to it; the support given by wonderful friends; volunteer translators; and reading the written texts to overcome the obstacle of not speaking English. This is language after all, there is no end to learning it. Moreover, when it comes to contemporary art, unless one can develop the skill to be able to talk about everything, the doors to genuine expression remain closed. After all, any artist can say, ‘Excuse me, where is the train station?’

It seems to have been forgotten that in the education system of our geography, it is not possible to properly learn English in state schools which have wide discrepancies among themselves as well. This is not an issue in the education systems of northern European countries where children can learn several languages at once. Apparently, it is not about laziness either. In addition to the trauma of realising the necessity of a language – which you were not taught throughout your education – only when you graduate after fifteen years, going through the wringer by investing time, emotion, and money to learn it afterwards is very exhausting. And so is clinging to this story for the rest of your life. Yet it is equally real. Against this backdrop, where the gap between the circumstances can never be bridge--d, I want the institutions to not refrain from trying amateur or voluntary forms of translation. Let us together hear the guests who have flown in from miles away to share their knowledge. Let us also not forget those who respectfully decline the invites to post-talk gatherings, because their insufficient English has left them exhausted. Hüseyin’s daughter can of course learn English on YouTube and speak it fluently, but I know that in the competitive art environment it is not easy to say, ‘You sit beside your friend during these dinners, lend a hand if she needs help.’ When the artist is there to talk about his own work, why should he translate for you? Precisely for this reason, I find it important for the institutions to see this. ‘We did not have the money!’, said a friend who was working at an art institution, ‘but actually, it was not our priority either.’ We have just experienced a pandemic, we can change this situation a little. If the youth of the working-class are really giving up on producing art due to the widening economic gap, let us put both our intentions and resources on the table. We have many contacts who would, with proper organising, make yearly donations of art to a fund for translation even if it is volunteer translation.

When the same friend had asked for my opinion on what they can do, I had reminded her that the system of applications was unequal due to the applicants’ varying levels of English, and she had said, ‘We are aware of that but what can we do? Are we to open a language course with British Council?’

That would be fabulous.

There are things we can do to counter the inequalities, and these are not far out things.

Would it not be a great start, for instance, if the curator states the artist honorarium without being asked and thus not make the inquiring artist vulnerable, or simply stops telling her, ‘You are the only one who asks about it?’

The worlds will brighten when we can keep an equal distance also from the artist who, due to her class privilege, can say ‘Oh please, do not mention it’ in response to the line ‘symbolic artist honorarium’ made sympathetic by the addition of the phrase ‘symbolic’ (since we are aware that this payment is not a full compensation of the labour).

In these invisible power relations, both the institution and the gallery have a difficult time relating with the artist who has had her share of the orphan boy-poor girl literature, the Kemalettin Tuğcu[5] cultural heritage – the ground is fragile. The artist with means covers the production costs without making an issue of it, and in return, as part of this silent pact her gallerist pays for dinner with the collectors. Kemalettin Tuğcu lives on, is kept alive. When doing the sums to meet the production costs, the working-class artist taxes the people she works with, she spends only as much as she can pay if her work is not sold.

As the inequalities widen the gaps, the art world continues to ponder and produce on issues of human rights, feminism, and injustices. Yet, seeing begins from the one closest to you.

In this competitive field, the imbalance of two artists’ purses who work collectively turns into the joint hoop that the artists go through, one with a limited internet package, the other with a mobile modem. It is difficult not to admire how in the selection of nonbiological siblings (companions) Alevism pays heed to the equilibrium of the two individuals’ budgets. (Surely, a criticism of the relationship established or failed to be established with money in Alevism is not the subject of this piece.)

Naturally, in the dumplings that we eat together, the adventures of whole wheat and white flour give one pause. The day I did the final reading of this piece, people in my atelier were talking about a ‘scholarship examination’ taken by 11-year-old students. The kids from public schools did not know how to fill out the answer sheet, so they were given instructions for 10 minutes which were not added to the exam duration! The parent of a private schooler said, ‘That’s not fair!’ Another parent reminded us that it was also unjust for all the students with different English levels at Boğaziçi University to take a year of English preparation. However, the biggest injustice was the lack of free education of the same quality for all.

Having just broached the subject and concluding merely the text, we see that the issue of class is too complex to be summarised in a single text. In 2011, Oda Projesi had asked artists to write their CVs comprised of the alternative jobs they do in order to make art. A very interesting picture had emerged when we read all the CVs that we had enthusiastically penned for the study titled Book of Professions.[6] One of the flavours that remain on my palate is our debt of gratitude to our families, lovers, and everyone who accompany and support us.

The adventures of whole wheat and white flour will continue without a season finale in ‘my dear Dumpling Post’


Translation by Irazca Geray



  1. See
  2. Translatorʼs note: In February 2022, heavy snow caused disruptions to the electricity grid in Isparta, a central province of Turkey; the authorities’ failure to fix the power outage left thousands of people without heating or electricity amid freezing cold for days.
  3. ‘Aman ağzımızın tadı bozulmasın Ali Rıza Bey!’ (Let’s not allow things to take our shine off, Mr. Ali Rıza!) is one of the famous lines from a highly popular television series Yaprak Dökümü (Falling Leaves) broadcast between 2006–2010 in Turkey, which is based on a novel of the same name by novelist Reşat Nuri Güntekin (1889–1956).
  4. Translatorʼs note: Meatballs with rice dipped in egg batter and fried.
  5. Translatorʼs note: Writer known particularly for his tragic novels with melodramatic storylines also adapted for the screen in films famous for their child actors playing poor/orphan children.
  6. See